Claims Of Obama-Era Domestic Spying Are Overblown

As a conservative, it pains me to be perceived as defending Barack Obama. I was a strong and consistent opponent of Obama during his eight years in the White House and rarely, if ever, agreed with him on anything. Yet at times, the criticism and attacks on Obama went too far and I feel obliged to speak up. Such was the case when conservatives charged, against all evidence, that Obama was actually a native Kenyan and that he planned to declare martial law in Texas. It’s the case now with charges of rampant spying on political opponents by the Obama Administration. Objectively speaking, the evidence to support these claims is simply not there.

Such is the case with the recent op-ed by Sharyl Attkisson in The Hill. As with many on the right, Attkisson assumes recent revelations of the surveillance of Paul Manafort are really an attempt to spy on Donald Trump. That doesn’t seem to be the case. Like the others, Attkisson fails to mention that the surveillance started two years before Trump tapped Manafort to be his campaign manager. Attkisson also overlooks the fact that there were many valid reasons for Manafort to be under scrutiny after he closely worked with the party of Ukrainian dictator and Putin figurehead, Viktor Yanukovych.

If the CNN report on the monitoring of Manafort is to be believed, and Attkisson seems to think it does, Manafort was apparently not under surveillance while he was Trump’s campaign manager. The report states that the two FISA warrants that covered Manafort were active from 2014 through “some point” in 2016 and again through fall of 2016 to early 2017. This seems to exclude the period from March through August 2016 when Manafort worked for the Trump campaign and possibly the entire time that Trump has been president.

Other examples of surveillance of by Attkisson are similarly overblown and misinterpreted. She cites comments by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates that “they, too, reviewed communications of political figures, secretly collected under President Obama.” When examined, the testimony in question deals primarily with Michael Flynn, the national security advisor who was fired for lying about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. Flynn’s case falls under incidental surveillance in which the Russian diplomat, not Flynn himself, was the person under surveillance. Spying on foreign diplomats is a legitimate role of the intelligence community.

Likewise, Attkisson’s claim that the Obama Administration spied on Congress is misleading. The Wall Street Journal article on which her claim is based makes clear that the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the surveillance target, not members of Congress. The article makes clear that the NSA did not intentionally monitor the congressmen, saying that the incidental collection of their conversations with the Netanyahu government led to an “Oh-s— moment” and very valid concerns that the Obama Administration was intentionally monitoring the legislative branch.

Attkisson also cites the example of Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.). In the 2012 article linked by Attkisson on Counterpunch.org, Harman was allegedly the subject of two NSA wiretaps in 2006 and 2009. Obama can obviously not be blamed for the first wiretap since George W. Bush was president in 2006. In any case, once again we see that the target of the surveillance was not Rep. Harman, but a suspected Israeli agent.

Attkisson’s example of Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is another example of a congressman being snared by contact from suspected foreign agents. In Kucinich’s case, the government recorded a call made to his congressional office by Saif el-Islam Qaddafi, at the time a high-ranking official in Libya’s government and a son of the country’s ruler, Moammar Qaddafi.

While the Obama Administration did spy on Fox News journalist, James Rosen, it appears that it did so legally. The Department of Justice obtained a warrant to search Rosen’s emails in connection with an investigation into leaked classified information, says the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

Likewise, the cyber spying on the Associated Press was “legal, as far as I can tell,” CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said at the time. “The administration isn’t violating the First Amendment. But they are certainly doing more than has ever been done before in pursuing the private information of journalists. And we’ll see if there’s any political check on them, because there doesn’t appear to be any legal check on what they’re doing.”

Attkisson’s claim that the Obama Administration spied on her is also unverified. The CBS News article describing the breach that Attkisson links to contains a disclaimer: “To be clear, the federal government has not been accused in the intrusion of Attkisson’s computer; CBS News is continuing to work to identify the responsible party.”

Attkisson sued the Obama Administration over the hacking in 2015. The suit is ongoing and she says that the Trump Administration is continuing to defend the case in court. She fails to explain why the Trump Administration would defend illegal actions by the Obama Administration, especially if Donald Trump was also a victim of Obama’s illicit surveillance.

In her closing argument, Attkisson cites alarming statistics about the increase in surveillance under Obama. Nevertheless she fails to point out that, per her source, in 2016, when Obama had supposedly increased surveillance at an alarming pace, only 336 US citizens were targeted by FISA warrants. Likewise, the same memo that Attkisson cites as evidence that the “intelligence community secretly expanded its authority in 2011 so it can monitor innocent U.S. citizens like you and me” actually says that the NSA realized that “its compliance and oversight infrastructure… had not kept pace” and “undertook significant steps to address these issues….”

Additionally, the alarmists fail to acknowledge that the first request for a FISA warrant on Trump campaign staffers was rejected in June 2016. This rejection seems to indicate that at least some intelligence officials under Obama took domestic surveillance protections seriously.

Likewise ignored is a statement in The New York Times from April 2017. Citing an unnamed official, the Times reported with respect to surveillance of Carter Page, another Trump campaign official, “The Justice Department considered direct surveillance of anyone tied to a political campaign as a line it did not want to cross.” This may explain the break in surveillance of Paul Manafort as well.

While there is a lack of evidence of systemic abuse of surveillance by the Obama Administration, there are legitimate concerns. For example, how did the recording of Kucinich’s phone conversation find its way into the hands of reporters four years later? The leaks of Michael Flynn’s conversations to the media were illegal, the lies Flynn told about them to Vice President Pence notwithstanding. The leakers have never been publicly identified or punished.

The unmasking of American subjects of incidental surveillance by Obama Administration officials is also problematic. Susan Rice appears to have been cleared of wrongdoing by House investigators, but Samantha Power still needs to explain her actions.

Finally, the revelations that the CIA inappropriately accessed Senate computers in 2014 shows the need for strict third-party oversight. Nevertheless, the fact that the breach was disclosed at all is encouraging. A subsequent review found that the incident was the result of an error and not intelligence officers acting in bad faith. More protections for journalists from surveillance would be an appropriate reform as well.

The claims of rampant Obama-era spying reflect many of the hallmarks of a classic conspiracy theory. For instance, the dots must be connected between many disparate events and rational explanations have to be ignored. A conspiracy by the Obama Administration to spy on political opponents would mean that virtually everyone in a leadership role in the intelligence community would be complicit, yet few have been fired by President Trump. When he did fire James Comey, illicit spying on Americans was not one of the reasons given.

Occam’s Razor holds that the simplest explanation is most often correct. In the case of Obama’s domestic surveillance, the simplest explanation is that there was probable cause for monitoring in most cases. That includes the cases of Paul Manafort and Carter Page. In other cases, some Americans were caught up in incidental surveillance of legitimate surveillance targets. Michael Flynn fell into this category. Donald Trump may have as well.

Susan Rice Explains Unmasking of Trump Officials

 

A subplot to the scandal of Russian interference in the 2016 election was the discovery that Obama Administration officials had “unmasked” the identity of certain Trump campaign officials in intelligence reports. The unmasking was later traced to Susan Rice, who was President Obama’s national security advisor at the time. The unmasking constituted a potential crime.

CNN cites multiple sources who say that Rice told House investigators in a closed-door session that she requested the unmasking to try to determine why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates made a trip to New York during the transition period. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan met with several Trump transition officials including Michael Flynn, Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner while in the US. last December. The Obama Administration was not notified of the trip by the UAE as is customary for visits by foreign dignitaries.

“I didn’t hear anything to believe that she did anything illegal,” said Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fl.), a member of House panel investigating the Russian interference.

The term “unmasking” refers to the practice of revealing the identity of American citizens who appear in the incidental collection of surveillance data where the primary target of the surveillance is a foreign national. Intelligence officials can request that the identities of the US citizens be “unmasked” in certain circumstances.

Judicial Watch had previously requested National Security Council records relating to the unmasking, but was informed that they had been transferred to the Obama Presidential Library. “You should be aware that under the Presidential Records Act, Presidential records remain closed to the public for five years after an administration has left office,” the NSC response noted.

It is not clear whether the case is completely closed on Rice’s unmasking request, but her testimony goes a long way towards explaining the issue. There was also no indication of why the UAE did not disclose the visit by the crown prince to the Obama Administration.

More Fake News From The NY Times

The New York Times, the  newspaper that once claimed to be the nation’s ”newspaper of record,” let its zeal to be part of the Trump haters so-called renaissance cause it to publish more fake news. Thursday the Times published a correction to an article that incorrectly claimed all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies agreed that “Russia orchestrated the attacks, and did it to help get [Trump] elected.”

The now corrected article was originally published on published June 25, and “covered” certain reactions that President Donald J. Trump gave in response to Russian cyber attacks and interactions with the 2016 presidential election.

The NY Times ’s correction states:

Correction: June 29, 2017

A White House Memo article on Monday about President Trump’s deflections and denials about Russia referred incorrectly to the source of an intelligence assessment that said Russia orchestrated hacking attacks during last year’s presidential election. The assessment was made by four intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community [emphasis added].

It’s really hard to see how any newspaper, let alone The New York Times could make such an egregious error. Hillary Clinton, during a May 31, 2017-interview, claimed that “all 17 intelligence agencies” confirmed with “high confidence” the Russians worked against her in the U.S. Presidential Election:

  The Russians ran an extensive information war against my campaign to influence voters in the election.

You can watch Hillary make these allegations at about the 19:30 in this You Tube video.

In a fact check of Hillary’s allegation the Daily Caller reports that James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence, refuted Hillary’s false assertion that “all 17 intelligence agencies” confirmed the Russian meddling against her campaign, during his May 8, 2017 testimony before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Clapper stated that the assessment was only from the NSA, FBI and the CIA.

Here’s the relevant passage from the transcript of the hearing:

FRANKEN: We have — the intelligence communities have concluded all 17 of them that Russia interfered with this election. And we all know how that’s right.

CLAPPER: Senator, as I pointed out in my statement Senator Franken, there were only three agencies that directly involved in this assessment plus my office…

FRANKEN: But all 17 signed on to that?

CLAPPER: Well, we didn’t go through that — that process, this was a special situation because of the time limits and my — what I knew to be to who could really contribute to this and the sensitivity of the situation, we decided it was a constant judgment (ph) to restrict it to those three. I’m not aware of anyone who dissented or — or disagreed when it came out.

According to the Daily Caller those three agencies were the CIA, NSA and FBI.

The New York Times covered that May 8, 2017 Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing. They just didn’t bother to listen.

The Unbelievable Timeline of Leaks Relating to Donald Trump and Russia

See if you notice a pattern here.

July 21, 2016: Donald J. Trump becomes the Republican nominee for President.

July 29, 2016: The Washington Post and other media outlets begin speculating that Trump and the Russians are in cahoots. This comes after both Trump’s nomination and his public, on camera, not via a backchannel or intermediary encouragement that the Russians leak Clinton’s emails.

November 8, 2016: Donald J. Trump is elected President of the United States.

November 10, 2016: News reports suggest there were contacts with the Russians.

December 16, 2016: The FBI suddenly backs the CIA assessment that Russia tried to influence the American election.

December 19, 2016: The Electoral College meets and votes to make Donald J. Trump the 45th President of the United States.


December 20, 2016: News about Trump and his Russian connections suddenly diminishes after the Electoral College meets.


December 30, 2016: Days before Congress meets to count the Electoral College votes, suddenly there is more speculation by left-leaning reporters.

January 3, 2017: Congress convenes and counts the Electoral College votes, making the President’s election official.

January 10, 2017: As Washington gears up for the inauguration, suddenly the Russian story is back.

January 20, 2017: Donald Trump is inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.


January 21, 2017: The Russia story moves out of the headlines. Though it will continue to percolate and generate stories here and there, it does not have momentum until…


February 28, 2017: President Trump gives a very well received address to the United States Congress.

March 2, 2017: Democrats accuse Attorney General Jeff Sessions of lying about his communications with the Russian Ambassador.

After each and every major event advancing Donald Trump’s presidency, there is another leak to the media about Russia from within the intelligence community. In the run up to the Electoral College; in the run up to the inauguration; and in the aftermath of President Trump’s speech to Congress — each time he has positive headlines someone leaks information about Russia to the press.

That looks an awful lot like someone or some group is trying to delegitimize his Presidency through rumor and allegation.

Spies Don’t Trust Trump with Intelligence

In what may be an unprecedented move, America’s intelligence community is reportedly keeping the country’s most sensitive intelligence information from its president. A Wall Street Journal report cited both current and former intelligence officials who said that concerns that the information might be leaked or compromised had prompted the agencies to withhold certain information.

Even before the forced resignation of Gen. Flynn due to his lack of forthrightness about his contacts with Russia, the Trump Administration was at odds with the intelligence community. President Trump was one of the few to deny the findings of the FBI and the CIA that Russia interfered in the presidential election. In January, Trump hinted at a restructuring of the intelligence community in what some thought was retribution for the investigation into Russia’s role in the election. Also in January, Russia was rumored to have compromising information on Donald Trump himself.

Flynn was also not the only member of the Trump camp to have suspicious ties to Russia. Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, was fired during the campaign for his connections to Russia. CNN reported that “high-level advisors” to the Trump camp were in “constant communication during the election with Russians known to US intelligence” according to “multiple current and former intelligence, law enforcement and administration officials.” Manafort was named by CNN in the article, but it may also refer to Carter Page, Roger Stone and others.

Manafort denied the accusation. “I have knowingly never talked to any intelligence official or anyone in Russia regarding anything of what’s under investigation,” he said. “I have never had any connection to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin or the Russian government before, during or after the campaign.”

According to the Journal, intelligence information is sometimes sanitized to protect sources before it is given to government officials, but there is no known precedent for restricting the president’s access due to fears about “trustworthiness and discretion.” The report said that there was no known instance in which vital information relating to security threats or plots had been restricted.

The Journal’s sources cited two specific reasons for restricting Mr. Trump’s access. The first is the general statements of admiration that Trump made for Vladimir Putin at numerous times. The second is the specific request that Mr. Trump made for Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails.

Officially, the intelligence community denies the Journal report. ““Any suggestion that the U.S. intelligence community is withholding information and not providing the best possible intelligence to the president and his national security team is not true,” said a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Likewise, the White House also disputes the account. “There is nothing that leads us to believe that this is an accurate account of what is actually happening.”

Regardless of whether information is being withheld, there is clearly a strained relationship between the Trump Administration and the intelligence community. “It’s probably unprecedented to have this difficult a relationship between a president and the intelligence agencies,” said Mark Lowenthal, a retired senior intelligence official. “I can’t recall ever seeing this level of friction. And it’s just not good for the country.”

If It Is Really “Country First,” Both Sides Need to Defuse This Situation With an Independent Counsel

A lot of people who think Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning are American heroes are under the impression Donald Trump and members of his administration are traitors. Hollywood celebrities are openly calling for a military coup. Political commentators are comparing Donald Trump’s election to 9/11 or Pearl Harbor because, allegedly and with no evidence, Russia stole the election. I would encourage you to read John Podhoretz on just how bad this situation could get.

On the other side, more and more Trump supporters are treating the American intelligence community as the enemy. The President grows more suspicious of the intel community by the way and he has good reason to do so.

Right now, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that intelligence agents are withholding information from Donald Trump because they fear it will be given to the bad guys. The New York Times is reporting Donald Trump is about to send in a friend to clean house. The intelligence community is concerned.

This is all going to end badly. Just about all of us were wrong about where 2016 would lead and now we can all see the worst case on the horizon.

The left is in a nonstop state of agitation calling for mass resistance. Trump supporters are looking to settle scores. Democrats have every incentive to play up unproven allegations that the Russians tampered with the election. Republicans have every reason to play up the theory that the intelligence community is out to get the President.

Both sides need to work to defuse this situation. It is escalating quickly and given antics on both sides, I concur with John Podhoretz that things could turn violent.

The wisest course of action is for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to name an independent counsel to examine two questions and for both sides to stand down on the matter while the investigation is ongoing.

First, did the Trump campaign collaborate with the Russians to affect the election?

Second, are some members of the intelligence community leaking to undermine the President?

We need answers to both. The first to satisfy the left and the second to satisfy the right.

What seems most plausible to me is that the Trump team individuals with known ties to Russia probably were in communication with the Russians about their other business dealings, not Trump. As the New York Times is reporting and everyone is ignoring, there is plenty of evidence of communications, but no evidence at all of coordination.

If both sides will not cooperate on defusing this situation, we are in for some seriously rocky times.

Concurrently to all of this, Mitch McConnell needs to hurry the hell up and get the rest of the cabinet and Neil Gorsuch confirmed. The executive departments need stability and we need someone on the Supreme Court who can break 4-4 decisions on controversial matters. The left is going to have to get over their phony “stolen seat” talking point. The right is going to have to concede the left has legitimate concerns about the Russian mess.

The constant inflaming of grievances by political organizations is going to do us all in. The President’s on twitter antics are part of that.

Lastly, I would add just one thing that some will not like, but should still be said. Some of us, myself included, have been raising the red flag about Donald Trump staffers and Russia since before he was even the Republican nominee. Many prominent media outlets chose to ignore the story entirely until Wikileaks started releasing information detrimental to the Clinton campaign. Since then, there have been more and more leaks from the intelligence community and greater, louder, and more prominent media coverage of the Trump-Russia story.

I have to wonder, though, why every story still has to note that THERE IS NO EVIDENCE AT ALL of Trump-Russian collaboration. Given the open hostility for the President that the intelligence community has, one would think they would have produced some actual proof of something other than innuendo by now, if there was something to produce. But they have not.

Evan McMullin Flexes His Brand

Failed presidential candidate Evan McMullin, once considered by some to be the last great hope for American conservatism, has been at it again.  Attempting to demonstrate that his vaunted principles are about as authentic as a Jack In The Box taco, today he posted the following observations about the ongoing drama of Mike Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser on Twitter:

And…

Yep, Evan’s gotta keep selling that brand.  After all, those cable news appearances and speeches aren’t gonna book themselves, are they?

What’s really sad here is that McMullin knows better.  As a guy who has worked in the intelligence community, it should scare the hell out of him that rogue elements within that community–very likely working with former officials from the Obama administration–have been breaking the law to leak information that has the sole purpose of doing political damage to a duly elected president.  Does McMullin really think that it’s in the best interests of the United States to have an unelected Deep State pulling the strings and controlling everything, essentially nullifying the concept of representative government?  How is that in any way principled?  And how is that in any way conservative?

Down this way lays a very dark path.  It means that the White House will have to operate from the assumption that its own intelligence agencies cannot be trusted.  What happens when a critical piece of information comes in, but the president doesn’t know if it’s genuine or just another political trap set by his enemies at the CIA, or the NSA, or the FBI?  Will he act on it in time?  Can he?  The potential for catastrophe in this kind of scenario cannot be overstated. We already live in a dangerous world.  This kind of nonsense will only make it even more dangerous.

But what’s all that, when there’s a #NeverTrump brand to protect?

By the way, Bill Kristol–one of McMullin’s big boosters–also got in on the act:

Some conservative principles you got there, Bill.

Is This The Coup the Left Wanted?

“President Trump should commit to replacing Mike Flynn with someone as hell-bent on reform and exposure of the Iran deal as Mike Flynn was.”

There is no evidence that Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian intelligence cooperated to steal the election from Hillary Clinton. But the New York Times waits for the third paragraph of this sensational story to tell you. First, they want you to know intelligence sources say Trump campaign staffers had multiple, repeated contacts with the Russians.

What we are seeing is an intelligence community trying to sabotage the President of the United States. We should all be concerned even if we have our own concerns about the President and Russia.

It is more and more apparent that, while Mike Flynn misled Vice President Pence and should have been fired, we only know this because members of the intelligence community engaged in an opposition research dump on Flynn with the media. They engaged as a separate and distinct branch of government, and that is a dangerous situation.

The left is cheering on the outcomes, as are some on the right, but they are all ignoring the process. When the intelligence community ceases to serve the Commander-in-Chief and instead tries to sabotage him because they do not like the direction he is taking the country, they are putting their interests ahead of the voters and the electoral process.

The same problem exists with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and its decision on the immigration order. In large part, the court based its decision on Donald Trump’s campaign statements that he wanted a Muslim ban. At first blush, that may seem legit to people but consider Barack Obama and Obamacare.

Chief Justice John Roberts upheld Obamacare’s constitutionality because he said it fell under the taxation powers of the constitution. But Barack Obama had campaigned on Obamacare saying that it was not a tax. Had the Supreme Court used President Obama’s campaign statements against him, they would have thrown out Obamacare.

While one may cheer on the outcome from the Ninth Circuit, they should not cheer the process and flawed legal reasoning.

Both the intelligence and court situation raise troubling issues. By cheering outcomes based on deeply problematic processes, people are rapidly moving towards “ends justify the means” reasoning. That will bring about the very creeping authoritarianism the left fears from Donald Trump.

They cheer this on now because it is working to their advantage as rogue leakers try to undermine a President they do not like. But it will eventually happen to them. By then they will have surrendered any and all moral high ground to cry foul.

The intelligence community serves at the pleasure of the President, not the other way around. The President must be able to depend on the intelligence community’s assessments. Right now, the intelligence community is causing a breakdown in trust with the Trump Administration through leaks designed to undermine his authority.

If a terrorist attack on our soil happens because the President felt he could no longer trust the intelligence community’s assessments, that will be on them. This behavior, in a democratic republic, must be considered unacceptable.

It is possible to be happy Mike Flynn is gone and also be deeply bothered by the means through the intelligence community designed his ouster. People on all sides should be speaking up loudly that the behavior of the intelligence community in damaging leaks is unacceptable.

Finally, we know that Mike Flynn intended to reform the intelligence community and expose side deals made with Iran to secure a diplomatic agreement. President Trump should commit to replacing Mike Flynn with someone as hell-bent on reform and exposure of the Iran deal as Mike Flynn was. The intelligence community cannot be rewarded for bad behavior that undermines the democratic processes of this nation, even if some of us are happy Mike Flynn is gone.