Dead Drop: September 30

VETO THIS: Congress stuck its fingers in the eye of President Obama on Wednesday, overwhelmingly overriding his veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). The House vote of 348 to 77 looked like a squeaker compared to the 97-1 whomping the President took in the Senate. About the time of the vote, CIA Director John Brennan issued a written statement stressing that while he deeply understands the pain of families who lost loved ones on 9/11, his view is that JASTA “will have grave implications for the national security of the United States,” and that messing with the concept of sovereign immunity, as the bill does, could have a severe impact on CIA officers serving abroad. Seems to us it is pretty unusual for a CIA Director to take such a stance on a piece of legislation. White House spokesman Josh Earnest took a different tack – saying the vote was “the single most embarrassing thing the United States Senate has done possibly since 1983…”  We’re pretty sure if we had some time to research it – we could find even more embarrassing actions from the Senate.

WHISTLERBLOWER BADGE: We learned from the Federation of American Scientists’ Steve Aftergood this week that the Intelligence Community plans to establish a new award “to recognize superior service by an intelligence professional in effectuating change by speaking truth to power, by exemplifying professional integrity, or by reporting wrongdoing through appropriate channels.”  The award was revealed in a so-called “Self-Assessment Report on the Third Open Government National Action Plan” that was released by the White House. We haven’t detected any mention of the award on the DNI’s website.  The Dead Drop imagines that this is not exactly the type of award someone working for the government hopes to win someday.  We guess the “reporting wrongdoing through appropriate channels” means Ed Snowden need not apply.

MIK GONE: We told you back in June that long-time NBC Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski was going to retire at the end of this year.  A fixture at the Pentagon for much of the last couple decades, “Mik” (as he is called because it is easier to spell and pronounce), decided to pull the plug a little early, and he officially retired from NBC this week.  At a Pentagon farewell last Friday, there were video tributes from President Obama, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, retired General and CIA Director David Petraeus, and others. On Wednesday night, there was another farewell at NBC’s studios on Nebraska Ave where network suits and talent assembled to give Miklaszewski a broadcast bye-bye. NBC devoted 37 seconds to Mik’s departure on Wednesday night’s news.  His solid reporting deserved more air time then he got over the past few years.

NFU: At Tuesday’s presidential debate, moderator Lester Holt asked Donald Trump where he stands on the debate over ending the long-standing U.S. refusal to pledge not to be the first to use nuclear weapons (AKA the “NFU” policy).  Trump displayed his penchant for broken field running – meandering all around the topic and saying, “I think that once the nuclear alternative happens, it’s over.”  The Dead Drop is not sure Trump understood the question, but we are positive we did not understand his full answer. At one point he said he “would certainly not do first strike” and then three sentences later said he would take nothing off the table. In case you haven’t been following the NFU  issue – according to an article in the WSJ last month – the Secretaries of State, Defense, and Energy all oppose President Obama’s desire to “explicitly rule out a first strike with a nuclear weapon in any conflict.” WSJ has a helpful explainer video at this link.  And according to a recent article in the NY Times, the President is now likely to drop the proposal. 

TMI:  The Dead Drop winced a couple weeks ago when CIA Director John Brennan shared a bit too much about a youthful indiscretion. CNN reported that, while speaking to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s annual conference, Brennan shared a story about when he was trying to get hired by the CIA in 1980. He said he struggled with whether to tell Agency polygraphers that he had voted for the Communist presidential candidate in 1976 as a youthful protest to the ugliness of Watergate.  His point, we think, was that you don’t have to be perfect to get into the Agency – and that the CIA values an honest expression of opinion.  But the crinkling sound you could hear was tin-foil hats being crafted all across America to shield the heads of conspiracy theorists who would henceforth claim that Brennan is a commie sympathizer.  Sure enough, such charges are flying, including one from the publication The American Spectator, saying that they suspect President Obama voted Communist too.  While The Dead Drop is almost always in favor of openness – in this case we think Brennan shared too much information about his youthful protest – information that will now live on the Internet forever.

POCKET LITTER: (Brief items which might add up to something)

  • SECOND HOTTEST TICKET IN NY LAST MON NIGHT: CIA Director John Brennan speaking at the 9/11 Memorial in NYC on: “From 9/11 to Abbottabad and Beyond.”  Tickets for the event quickly sold out. The hour-long lecture was set to end at 8PM, just in time for folks to find a place to watch the presidential debate.
  • PALANTIR PICKLE: Palantir Technologies is getting sued by the Department of Labor for not hiring enough Asian engineers. This is making more news than it might because (a) the outfit received some of its initial funding from the CIA’s In-Q-Tel and (b) controversial Palantir founder Peter Thiel made a speech at the RNC endorsing Donald Trump.
  • ALEPPO MOMENT: Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson appears not ready for prime time – interviewed by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on Wednesday, he was asked who his favorite foreign leader was.  He couldn’t think of one. Give him props for putting a humorous spin to his lapse, calling it an “Aleppo moment,” a reference to his not knowing Aleppo was a besieged city in Syria during a previous interview on MSNBC.