Meet Russia-gate's spin-off, Spy-gate: the revelation that Obama team spied on Trump
It’s the Boomerang Effect – an investigation that exposes the investigators. That’s what we’re witnessing as the “Russia-gate” probe reveals that the real evildoers at the heart of this ginned-up brouhaha are those who accused President Trump of “treason.”
Now we know the real treason — to the Constitution — is that committed by members of the Obama administration, starting with former National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who, as the Daily Caller reports:
“[O]rdered U.S. spy agencies to produce ‘detailed spreadsheets’ of legal phone calls involving Donald Trump and his aides when he was running for president, according to former US Attorney Joseph diGenova.
“’What was produced by the intelligence community at the request of Ms. Rice were detailed spreadsheets of intercepted phone calls with unmasked Trump associates in perfectly legal conversations with individuals… The overheard conversations involved no illegal activity by anybody of the Trump associates, or anyone they were speaking with,’ diGenova said. ‘In short, the only apparent illegal activity was the unmasking of the people in the calls.’”
The Susan Rice connection was first reported by Trump supporter Mike Cernovich, but his article received little notice. However, when Bloomberg reporter Eli Lake wrote about it, Fox News followed up and the story began to break all over the media map. Lake reported that:
“White House lawyers last month learned that the former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of US persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign, according to US officials familiar with the matter.”
Monitored conversations had nothing to do with Trump’s alleged ties to Russian officials, but instead, according to numerous reports, involved detailed information about the Trump campaign. As Lake put it:
“The intelligence reports were summaries of monitored conversations – primarily between foreign officials discussing the Trump transition, but also in some cases direct contact between members of the Trump team and monitored foreign officials. One US official familiar with the reports said they contained valuable political information on the Trump transition such as whom the Trump team was meeting, the views of Trump associates on foreign policy matters and plans for the incoming administration.”
When monitored conversations involve a US person, the protocol is supposed to mandate the “minimization” of that person’s identity. There are, however, ways to get around this, and the Obama administration apparently relaxed the rules to enable not only the “unmasking” of the US persons involved in these conversations but also to make it possible for the information to be disseminated to top administration officials, including not only Ms. Rice but also, according to Fox, “to all those at the National Security Council, some at the Defense Department, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and then-CIA Director John Brennan – essentially, the officials at the top, including former Rice deputy Ben Rhodes.”
This went on for “up to a year.”
So here is what we now know: The Obama administration was spying on “Trump, his team, and his family,” as the report cited above puts it, for a year before he took office, and feeding the information to the media. This goes far beyond the legendary Watergate scandal, which merely involved a single bungled break-in at Democratic party headquarters: this is Watergate times one-hundred.
And here’s the real kicker: as Lake points out, “The standard for senior officials to learn the names of US persons incidentally collected is that it must have some foreign intelligence value, a standard that can apply to almost anything. This suggests Rice’s unmasking requests were likely within the law.”
Lake trenchantly skewers this nonsense about how a “foreign connection” is required to legalize the unmasking of Americans’ communications, including their Internet activities, as did this 2013 incident. James Risen and Laura Poitras made this same point in a New York Times op ed piece back in 2013:
“Since 2010, the National Security Agency has been exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with officials.
“The spy agency began allowing the analysis of phone call and e-mail logs in November 2010 to examine Americans’ networks of associations for foreign intelligence purposes after N.S.A. officials lifted restrictions on the practice, according to documents provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.
“The policy shift was intended to help the agency ‘discover and track’ connections between intelligence targets overseas and people in the United States, according to an N.S.A. memorandum from January 2011. The agency was authorized to conduct ‘large-scale graph analysis on very large sets of communications metadata without having to check foreignness’ of every e-mail address, phone number or other identifier, the document said. Because of concerns about infringing on the privacy of American citizens, the computer analysis of such data had previously been permitted only for foreigners.”
Something quite similar to this “graphical analysis” is apparently what Rice asked for and received, and it was all perfectly “legal.”
As I wrote at the time that Snowden revealed the nature and extent of NSA surveillance:
“They can map out your whole life: your friends, your family, your finances, your enemies, your politics, your love affairs, your consultations with a doctor or a psychiatrist, and your location at any given time. They don’t need a warrant: they don’t need a judge: they just need to establish a ‘foreign connection’ – and, as we have seen, that’s real easy.”
It was inevitable that these capabilities would be used for political espionage. That it is the “liberals” who are now defending these practices in the service of blatantly partisan ends comes as no surprise. The irony is that this is part of an assault on a conservative administration that came into office vowing to increase these capabilities – little knowing that, even as Donald Trump was defending and calling for the expansion of the NSA’s ability to snoop on Americans’ phone conversations, our spooks were spying on the President-to-be.
As “Russia-gate” turns into “Spy-gate,” one wonders: will the Trump administration learn the lesson of this incident and do an about-face on the issue of government surveillance? I wouldn’t bet the farm on it, but it’s possible. More importantly, it looks like conservatives and some Republicans are now becoming the biggest defenders of civil liberties – and that’s a big turnaround.