Dead Drop: September 22

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO SPOOKS:  The CIA celebrated the 70th anniversary of its founding on Monday. What do you get for an outfit that has played such a critical (and on occasion controversial) role in our nation’s history?  President Trump presented the Agency with a Tweet with his best wishes – and a link to a video of his January 21 visit to Langley.  In the clip, the POTUS praises CIA and trashes the media, saying journalists “are among the most dishonest human beings on earth.”

NOT FIT TO PRINT?  As mentioned above, this week the CIA marked the 70th anniversary of its founding. As part of the festivities, it bestowed its “Trailblazer” award on recently retired Agency officer Greg Vogle. Vogle’s actions in Afghanistan post 9/11 are legendary within the CIA, although his name was not widely known to the public, because until recently, he served undercover.  With that cover lifted, the CIA issued a press release about the award.  Vogle’s recognition was noted in places like the Washington Post and Newsweek.  One publication that appears to have ignored the announcement, however, was The New York Times. Oddly enough, the Times revealed Vogle’s identity in a news story in 2015 – over the objections of the CIA, which argued that he was still serving undercover.  As the Washington Post pointed out this week – when the Times blew Vogle’s cover two years ago – they misspelled his name as “Vogel.”

NOT BLOODY LIKELY, MATE: “Down Under” media are reporting that the CIA twice asked the Australian government (in 2013 and 2014) to consider re-opening an embassy in Pyongyang to create channels of discussion with (and perhaps keep a better eye on) the North Koreans. After considering the request and doing a “cost benefit analysis,” the Aussies reportedly decided not to give it a go.  Saying essentially, “crikey, too much aggro, mate.”

ROCKY FELLOWS:  Late last week, former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell resigned his position as a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government to protest the University’s decision to name former Army Private Chelsea Manning as a visiting fellow.  Shortly thereafter, current CIA Director Mike Pompeo pulled out of a scheduled speaking gig at Harvard for similar reasons – arguing that Harvard was inappropriately honoring a convicted felon with their Manning appointment. A matter of hours later, Douglas Elmendorf, dean of the Kennedy School at Harvard, pulled a 180 and disinvited Manning, apologizing for “not recognizing upfront the full implications of our (Harvard’s) original invitation.”

The Cipher Brief asked readers for reactions to the dispute.  Unsurprisingly, they fell into two distinct camps. One, praising the actions of Morell and Pompeo.  A reader opined, “Chelsea Manning is nothing but an absolute traitor to this country and, accordingly, warrants ostracizing…not embraced by any American institution of higher learning, let alone Harvard.” The other camp represented by a reader who said Manning had “made a mistake, has apologized, (was) sentenced and pardoned” and suggested that she sue someone for character assassination.

POCKET LITTER: Bits and pieces of interesting /weird stuff we discovered:

  • Xbox Marks the Spot: Remember all those gritty WWII submarine movies where the skipper brings the boat up to periscope depth, drapes his arms around the handles of the scope, and scans the surface for targets? Well, that was then.  According to the Virginian Pilot newspaper – the Navy is replacing the helicopter-like stick that has been used to adjust the periscopes on more modern subs – with Xbox 360 controllers.  Nowadays, there is no long tube that only one sailor can look through at a time – but rather video screens, so it is somehow appropriate going forward the display will be controlled by the same device that is used for video games ashore. In addition to being more user friendly than the joystick that had been in play in recent years, you also can’t beat the price.  The joysticks costs about $38,000…but the Navy can get Xbox controllers for less than $30 a pop.
  • G-Man Tillman? Former Chicago Bear cornerback Charles Tillman played 13 seasons in the NFL.  He was a broadcaster last year on the “Fox NFL Kickoff” show – but disappeared from the network without notice this year.  The Chicago Tribune reports, however, that Tillman is in training to become an FBI agent. The Bureau refuses to confirm or deny the report under the standard, “we don’t talk about personnel matters” (unless we want to) proviso.  The Tribune notes that Tillman signed a six-year, $40.55 million NFL contract in 2007. With the average special agent’s take home pay, we figure he could equal that amount if he works for the bureau for about 500 years.

NETWORK NEWS: Not a day goes by when members of The Cipher Brief Network aren’t making news.  Here are just a few examples from this week:

  • Retired 4-star Admiral James Stavridis was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Monday where he discussed his controversial suggestion that the U.S. and its allies consider putting a naval blockade in effect against North Korea.
  • Former NSA and CIA Director General Mike Hayden, writing in The Hill, discussed the President’s UNGA speech and policy regarding North Korea. He said Trump’s “fire and fury” language (was) “a good place to be in response to North Korean nuclear use, but not such a good place if it is the harbinger of a preemptive strike.”
  • Daniel Hoffman, former senior CIA operations officer, writing on FoxNews.Com, described how intelligence assessments and options are developed for the president to consider.

WHAT’S ON THEIR NIGHTSTAND? (Our contributors tell us about what they’re currently reading)

Carmen Medina, former CIA Deputy Director of Intelligence:

“I’m currently reading a graphic novel (yes lots of pictures) Heretics: The Wondrous (and Dangerous) Beginnings of Modern Philosophy because we keep making the same mistakes over and over again.”


“Clearly there are military options, from a naval blockade to further isolate North Korea, to a range of more offensive military options to defeat individual missile launches that are endangering allies or U.S. bases, to limited conventional options against launch facilities and nuclear sites, to include rockets and artillery sites, and tactical nuclear weapons, and a full-out war using conventional and nuclear options as well.  No one wants to use any of these options, but the military has no choice but to prepare for the use of them.”

-Retired General Jack Keane, former Vice Chief of Staff, U.S. Army

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