Dead Drop: September 6

SPACE SHOT: On Friday August 30th the President decided to use his cyber bully pulpit and tweeted “best wishes and good luck” to Iran as they try to figure out what caused a catastrophic accident at their Semnan missile launch site.  Knowing that a picture is worth a thousand words, the president also included what appeared to be a U.S. intelligence surveillance photo. Within hours, the Twittersphere lit up with experts and amateurs suggesting that it appeared that the president had taken a cellphone photo of what normally would be a highly-classified image and posted it for the world to see. The president told reporters later that afternoon that he had every right to release the photo. “True,” one intelligence veteran told us.  “The president could legally take the nuclear launch codes and post them on the internet. But that wouldn’t make it wise.” What’s the big deal with the photo release? Around the world, experts soon were analyzing it concluding which classified reconnaissance satellite it came from, when, and what the capabilities of that platform might be.  An astronomer in the Netherlands suggested the surveillance photo was taken by the classified spy satellite USA 224, at about 09:44:20 on August 29th from a distance of 382 km. The story was on page one of the August 31 New York Times.  Even Fox News covered it. If anyone other than the president tweeted out a classified satellite photo, there would be hell to pay. For example, in 1985, Samuel Morison, a former Navy intelligence analyst, was sentenced to two years in prison for giving three satellite photos of a Soviet nuclear-powered aircraft carrier under construction to Jane’s Defence Weekly.   We asked DNI public affairs if their agency had launched a damage assessment regarding the unexpected release of classified information – we’ll let you know when we hear back.

HOLY UNSUBSTANTIATED: When The Daily Star calls something a “bizarre conspiracy theory” you know the allegation is pretty wild. The publication recently repeated allegations that Mother Teresa was “a CIA agent used to stop India from falling under the influence of the USSR during the cold war.”  The Macedonian-born woman who has been canonized by the Catholic church and is now officially known as “Saint Teresa of Calcutta,” reportedly traveled to the Soviet Union in 1989.  The theory is that she was carrying back channel messages from the United States.  Why do some folks hold that theory?  It seems someone filed a Freedom of Information request with the National Security Agency in 2015 and was told then and in subsequent appeals that the records NSA holds mentioning her are “TOP SECRET” and “SECRET.” Of course, if Mother Teresa WAS an agent of the U.S., the records showing that would much more likely be held by CIA rather than NSA.  What are our chances of finding out?  We don’t have a prayer.

The Cipher Brief has become the most popular outlet for former intelligence officers; no media outlet is even a close second to The Cipher Brief in terms of the number of articles published by formers.” —Sept. 2018, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 62

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