December 4

CONTAINED OR NOT CONTAINED, THAT IS THE QUESTION. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, testified before the House Armed Services Committee this week saying that the U.S. has not contained ISIS.  His comments got a lot of play for contradicting the President.  President Obama told ABC News just before the Paris attacks that ISIS had been contained.  So who’s right?  Ben Rhodes, National Security Advisor, says the President was only talking about ISIS in Syria and Iraq.  Dunford said that ISIS has been ‘tactically’ contained in areas where they’ve been since 2010, but that strategically, they have spread since then.  A Dead Drop source tells us that the Chairman believed the whole drama was a bit overblown and says there really isn’t a division between the Chairman and the President on this issue.  ‘There really, really isn’t.’  But hey – why let a few words ruin a perfectly good 24 hours of headlines?   The source adds that the Chairman is very focused on going after the group trans-regionally, referring specifically to ISIS in Libya.

MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU – Secretary of Defense Ash Carter was also testifying before the same committee this week, telling lawmakers that he’s planning to send an expeditionary tracking force to help boost the number of raids aimed at taking down ISIS in Iraq.  A Dead Drop source tells us that the idea is still in the concept phase and that DoD is “a ways away” from deployment.  In concept, the group will be made up of just a few trigger pullers and a lot more enablers (think helos).  If this force concept works, we’re told it could become the template that DoD uses to go after ISIS on a far- broader spectrum. 

SPYMASTER FALLOUT –  The Showtime documentary “The Spymasters” which premiered last Saturday got generally good reviews from cognoscenti who watched it.  However, that number was probably low because it was up against two very good college football games and “The Story of Santa Claus.” Some wonder whether the CIA will be forced to file a “crimes report” (a term of art for a DOJ referral of any apparently unauthorized disclosure of classified information) after ex-Director Leon Panetta committed truth regarding lethal CIA drone attacks.  No one will want to do so – but rules are rules (sometimes).

THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP –  The Federation of American Scientists via FOIA managed to get their hands on a formerly classified report to the DNI regarding the Fort Hood shooting and “underwear bombing” incidents.  Four former senior officials, led by former acting CIA Director John McLaughlin, produced the 64-page report. Lots of good insights to chew on, not only information on what happened but also recommendations for changes in the IC (but too detailed for full readout in The Dead Drop). In their closing thoughts the group offered this comment which remains true today: “To formally defeat terrorism requires at least three things: destroying the leadership, denying it safe haven, and changing the myriad conditions that give rise to the phenomenon. The Intelligence Community can carry much of the burden on the first two-but very little on the third.”

TISH TALK – The Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) just announced that Letitia ‘Tish’ Long is taking over as chair of the organization’s board of directors.  She’s replacing Ambassador John Negroponte whose three-year term expires at the end of the year.  Tish is a widely-respected veteran of several intelligence agencies, including the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, where she served as director after previous stints at both DIA and the CIA. 

YEAH, APPARENTLY LOOKS MATTER — …Even in football.  Social media sites have been exploding this week with the newly-designed Navy football uniforms for the Army/Navy pigskin showdown on December 12.   Under-Armour designed both the uniforms and the custom-painted helmets.  Check em out here.  So, are they badass or ridiculous? (They’ve been called both). 

HOMELAND RECAP – It is a good thing titles for TV episodes don’t matter – because the name for this week’s Homeland edition was “The Litvinov Ruse” – which tells you little.  

Oh yeah, SPOILER ALERT – if you don’t want to know what the title meant or anything else about last Sunday’s episode, tune out now.  OK, is the room clear?  Good.  

So this week Saul’s friends the Mossad folks arrange a reunion between on-the-run Saul and Carrie.  In doing, so the top Israeli guy warns Carrie that she broke Saul’s heart when she lobbied against him becoming CIA director (which we’re just learning about now). She and Saul hug it out and Carrie gets all jiggly-chinned (which is what she does when about to cry).  She tells Saul that Allison is working for the Russians. He doesn’t want to believe it.  At this point Carrie doesn’t know that Saul’s ties to Allison are more than personal.   But Saul agrees it would be a bad thing if the Russians had penetrated CIA’s European operations for the past decade…so he and Carrie enlist German intelligence (the BND) to run an op against the CIA Berlin Station Chief (Allison) to smoke her out.  Saul arranges an overnight liaison with Allison – and while she is sleeping, bugs her purse and cell phone.  Then the Germans tell Allison that they have a high-ranking Russian intelligence official about to defect who will spill some important beans.  The BND, Saul and Carrie gather around to listen to the bugs and watch video from cameras the Germans have installed in Allison’s apartment to see if she freaks out.  Turns out what they see is Allison having a close encounter on the kitchen counter with some guy who brought her dinner.  Saul’s reaction tips Carrie to the fact that his interest in Allison was more than professional.  But while the video feed shows Allison is dishonest – it doesn’t prove she is a Russian penetration of the CIA.  So the BND ups the ante by telling her that the incoming defector has information about a Russian penetration of Berlin Station.  That does it.  Allison wigs out and takes a circuitous route to a Russian safe house in the countryside to tell another of her lovers, Ruskie Ivan Litvinov, that her cover has been blown.  Of course the Germans follow her with drones and other high-tech gear and bust Allison and Ivan.

Meanwhile – in the B story – Quinn is being held captive by ISIS thugs but figures out that the Syrians plan to use Sarin gas to kill a bunch of folks in Germany.  Quinn’s captor/buddy learns that his colleagues plan to use the gas on Quinn in a specially built test chamber and broadcast the video to scare/extort the West.  Quinn’s pal manages to secretly inject him with atropine – an antidote that is supposed to prevent you from dying from sarin exposure – but your results may vary.  We see Quinn foaming from the mouth and falling down, which is not a favorable result.

Finally – we see Allison and Litvinov hauled in to explain themselves.  Allison has suddenly regained her composure and tells CIA top-guy Dar Adal that he has it all wrong – that Litvinov was really HER asset. She was using him all along to get information out of the Russians –  not the other way around. Apparently THAT is the Litvinov Ruse of the title.

NAILED IT. Beaconing Allison’s bag seems plausible…although we doubt a long-in-the-tooth head of European operations could do it in the dark so deftly.

FAILED IT.  How did Allison get past her periodic CIA polygraphs over the past decade if she has been in bed, literally and figuratively, with the Russians?

When the Germans arrested both Litvinov and Allison – how come they both didn’t start shouting about their diplomatic immunity? 

Making Sarin is hard.  Seems to stretch credulity that the ISIS thugs who can’t run a safe house managed to create it and build a test chamber in an abandoned Berlin warehouse.

But most egregious – if Allison was running a Russian as an asset for a dozen years, there is no way she would have kept that information to herself.  She would have shared it with her leadership.