Dead Drop: September 29

KARMA IS A BITCH:  In the August 25th edition of The Dead Drop, we mentioned that former CIA operative Valerie Plame had started a tongue-in-cheek  “GoFundMe” page to buy controlling interest in Twitter in order to prevent President Trump from saying offensive and stupid things on his Twitter account.  This past week, Plame got herself in hot water by retweeting an article titled, “America’s Jews Are Driving America’s Wars.” Even a cursory review of the article, written by another controversial former CIA officer, Phil Giraldi, would show that it is full of anti-Semitic blather. (Example: an argument that when American Jews like Bill Kristol appear on TV, networks should put on screen a label calling them “Jewish and an outspoken supporter of the state of Israel” which Giraldi says is “kind of like a warning label on a bottle of rat poison.”) Not only did Plame re-tweet the article, but when she started to receive heat for it, she told critics to “put aside your biases” and suggested they read the entire “provocative, but thoughtful” piece. Then SHE read it, and eventually admitted that she missed the “group undercurrents” of the article.   On Sunday, she resigned from a board position with the Ploughshares Fund saying, “I take full responsibility for my thoughtless and hurtful actions, and there are no excuses for what I did,” she said, calling it a “grave mistake” and again apologizing for sharing the “deeply offensive” article, and for “perpetuating any conversation that gives credence to anti-Semitism.” Turns out sending offensive and stupid messages on Twitter is not solely the province of the Commander in Chief.

PACIFIC TURMOIL: Reverberations are still being felt following the tragic collisions involving USS FITZGERALD and USS JOHN S. MCCAIN. The commanding officers, executive officers, and command master chiefs of both ships were “relieved for cause” – Navy talk for “fired.”  Then in short order, the Commander of the Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral Joseph AuCoin got the axe. Last week, the admiral in charge of Combined Task Force 70 and the Commodore of Destroyer Squadron 15 were forced to walk the plank. This week, Admiral Scott Swift, the Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, announced he would be retiring rather than taking the next step up that most of his predecessors have followed – becoming Commander of the joint Pacific Command. Swift’s unexpected departure raises speculation about the future of the PACOM chief slot.  Some observers wonder whether the highly-regard incumbent, Admiral Harry Harris, might have his planned retirement delayed—and others suggest that the U.S. Air Force might make a run at the job, which has, heretofore, always been filled by a sailor. Once, back in 2004, President Bush (43)  nominated an Air Force officer, General  Gregory “Speedy” Martin, for the PACOM slot – only to see the nomination blocked by Senator John S. McCain – whose father, Admiral John S. McCain, Jr., held the joint job as a Navy admiral in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

INTELLIGENCE REALLY MATTERS: Michael Morell’s new podcast, produced by The Cipher Brief in conjunction with CBS News, is taking off in terms of listenership, reaction – and even frequency.  Originally planned to be a weekly discussion of the most important intelligence related issues of the day between Morell and some top current or former official –  by popular demand, there were two new episodes this week: NCTC Director Nick Rasmussen and former special envoy to the Six Party Talks on North Korea Ambassador Joe DeTrani.  Two more “must hear” interviews are on tap for next week: former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and former White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. Intelligence Matters first podcast with former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, released on September 19th, is approaching the top 10% of podcasts in downloads.

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

  • High price advice: Vanity Fair reported recently that tech billionaire Peter Thiel may be in line to be appointed chair of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board. One complication is that Thiel is chairman of Palantir Technologies, an important contractor for the intelligence community, and overseeing the IC, which is a heavy user of his company, may be an issue. But we suspect the White House can find a work-around.
  • Deep State: Cheer-up Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sure, according to published reports the President called you an “idiot” – but imagine if you were Delfin Lorenzana,  the Defense Secretary of the Philippines, who President Rodrigo Duterte  just accused of being a “CIA Agent.”  Duterte said he was just joking – a sentiment echoed by Lorenzana.  But in both the Philippines and the U.S., it is not always easy to tell when the president is kidding around.
  • Ticking clock: We have told you a couple of times about the looming deadline to release all documents relating to the JFK assassination. This week, lawmakers called on the President to release all CIA and FBI records on the matter by October 26th. Under the law, that is the date the National Archives are supposed to disclose all the remaining files UNLESS the President certifies that doing so would harm national security. A CIA spokeswoman told Fox News the agency “continues to engage in the process to determine the appropriate next steps with respect to any previously-unreleased CIA information.” In other words: stay tuned.

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:

  • Former CIA and NSA Director, General Mike Hayden wrote in The Hill regarding President Trump’s comments on the NFL “taking a knee” controversy. Hayden says as a 39-year military veteran, he knows something about the anthem, patriotism, and why we fight, and that he never imagined himself saying this before last Friday, “but if now forced to choose in this dispute, put me down with Kaepernick.”
  • Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Admiral Jim Stavridis was in the news a lot this week – as he is most weeks – talking about North Korea on Morning Joe for example. But what caught our eye was his inclusion in this amicus brief filed with the U.S. District Court in DC in a case pressing the folks who run presidential debates to change the rules to make it easier for third party and non-aligned candidates to make the cut. Stavridis joined prominent players, like former Senators Joe Lieberman and Bob Kerrey, in arguing for a more level playing field when deciding who gets into a debate and who doesn’t.

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

Leslie Ireland, former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Intelligence and Analysis:

“I am reading Washington’s Immortals by Patrick K. O’Donell. It’s the true story of a heroic regiment from Maryland who fought in many key battles during the American Revolution and is credited with turning the course of those engagements. I was drawn to the book because O’Donnell used firsthand accounts of the soldiers about the fighting and life during that period. My fourth great-grandfather Asa Ireland, from Ipswich, Massachusetts, fought in the American Revolution, and I hope to get some sense of what his service and life was like.”


“Incidental collection happens every day, as does its dissemination.  As a CIA officer, I would see several intelligence reports every day that included incidental collection. This should not surprise anyone. Intelligence information deals with, to a significant degree, how foreign governments and foreign entities think about, plan with regard to, and actually approach the United States.

As the Acting Director and Deputy Director of CIA, I frequently asked for the identity o a U.S. person in an intelligence report, perhaps a couple times a week. And when I was briefing President Bush, I routinely asked for that information on his behalf, even prior to him seeing the intelligence report. I anticipated his need for the information.”

-Michael Morell, former Acting and Deputy Director of the CIA

What hits or misses did you pick up?  You can slip them to The Dead Drop anonymously – no thumb drives required.  Send your thoughts to [email protected]