The Cipher Brief Dead Drop: March 17

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WHO’S YOUR MCMASTER? Politico had a fascinating scoop this week which asserts that President Trump has overruled a decision by his National Security Advisor, General H.R. McMaster, regarding a key NSC staffer. You will recall when the sweepstakes to replace Mike Flynn at the NSC was underway – one of the issues was, would the new pick be able to select his own staff.  White House spokesman Sean Spicer assured everyone that McMaster would have “100% autonomy over who he could hire.”  Now, not so much.  According to Politico, McMaster wanted to move a 30-year-old former Flynn associate, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, out of the NSC’s intelligence director position – but Cohen-Watnick went around him and appealed to Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner – who went to President Trump on the matter.  Trump reportedly voted for Cohen-Watnick to stay where he was – probably causing McMaster to wonder what the limits were on his own unlimited power.

MICROWAVE OF THE FUTURE: First, President Trump accused Barack Obama of having tapped his phones at Trump Tower during the presidential campaign. Then the White House refused to provide any substantiation to the claim but asked Congress to investigate.  Then presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway came to the President’s defense (sort of) in an interview with the Bergen (NJ) Record, in which she said there are many ways to surveil each other: “You can surveil someone through their phones, certainly through their television sets — any number of ways.” Conway added that the monitoring could be done with “microwaves that turn into cameras,” adding, “We know this is a fact of modern life.” This alternative fact provided great fodder to late-night TV hosts who mocked the claim. Who might come to Kellyanne’s defense?  We offer former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell who was quoted in 2015 as saying, “If you know what I know, you wouldn’t plug your toaster in.”

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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