Everyone is suddenly talking about the Deep State – the configuration of spy agencies, career bureaucrats, and overseas spooks whose murky omnipresence has been brought to light by President Trump’s contention that he was “wiretapped” by his predecessor.
With his usual imprecision, Trump managed to confuse the issue by ascribing the surveillance to Barack Obama, and so naturally spokesmen for the former President had no trouble batting this charge away. But as a former Obama speechwriter put it: “I’d be careful about reporting that Obama said there was no wiretapping. Statement just said that neither he nor the [White House] ordered it.”
And then there’s the word “wiretapping”: this brings to mind the old-fashioned physical “bug” that our spooks used to plant on their target’s phone lines, installed in the dead of night. But that isn’t how it’s done anymore. As Edward Snowden revealed, the National Security Agency (NSA) scoops up everyone’s communications, and stores them in a database for later retrieval. Loosely-observed “rules” are supposed to make it hard (but not impossible) for the spooks to spy on American citizens, but the reality is that there are plenty of times when such information is scooped up “incidentally,” and in those cases the identities of those spied on must be redacted.
Except not anymore.
As the New York Times reported on January 12:
“In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.
“The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.
“The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data…”
And it looks like Obama administration officials made good use of this loosening of the rules after Trump’s victory. As the Times reported on March 1, after Trump won they were combing through the unredacted raw data looking for evidence of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign:
“In the Obama administration’s last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election – and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians – across the government.”
Their goal: “to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators.” And they apparently didn’t wait for the investigators, as a stream of reportage about “intercepts” involving Trump associates, such as former National Security Council advisor Michael Flynn communicating with Russian officials, found its way onto the front pages of the nation’s newspapers. The source of this intelligence is the key to understanding what happened. The Times tells us:
“American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials – and others close to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin – and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence.
“Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates.”
Forget about looking for a FISA court application to spy on Trump & Co.: it wasn’t necessary. Such archaic remnants of a free society as a warrant were blithely bypassed: “Seventeen different government agencies shouldn’t be rooting through Americans’ emails with family members, friends and colleagues, all without ever obtaining a warrant,” warned American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Patrick Toomey at the time the NSA rules were thrown out.
But nobody was listening – including Trump and his supporters, who generally approve of government spying in the name of “national security.”And so the way was cleared for the anti-Trump coup plotters to do their dirty work. As the January 12 Times story reported:
“Under the new system, agencies will ask the N.S.A. for access to specific surveillance feeds, making the case that they contain information relevant and useful to their missions. The N.S.A. will grant requests it deems reasonable after considering factors like whether large amounts of Americans’ private information might be included and, if so, how damaging or embarrassing it would be if that information were ‘improperly used or disclosed.’”
All the leakers had to do was comb through the material gathered by the NSA and cherry-pick what looked incriminating – although, to be sure, if they had a smoking gun we would surely have known about it by now. But the lack of such was no obstacle to their goal, which was to give the #NeverTrump cause a banner around which to rally post-election – “The Russians did it!” – and create a dark cloud of suspicion over Trump’s presidency as being somehow illegitimate.
The new rules on disseminating raw NSA intercepts went into effect on January 3, after then Attorney General Loretta Lynch signed on: the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had previously signed on December 12. And if we look at the reportage coming out of the media, that’s when the stories detailing the content of intercepts and other intelligence started hitting the front pages.
It’s difficult to see how anyone could deny that the Surveillance State did a number on Trump. Two days after the loosened NSA rules went into effect, the Washington Post ran a story headlined “US Intercepts Capture Senior Russian Officials Celebrating Trump Win”:
“Senior officials in the Russian government celebrated Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton as a geopolitical win for Moscow, according to U.S. officials who said that American intelligence agencies intercepted communications in the aftermath of the election in which Russian officials congratulated themselves on the outcome.”
Citing "intercepted messages and conversations among senior Russian officials in Putin’s inner circle" a January 6 Reuters report informed us that:
“The CIA has identified Russian officials who fed material hacked from the Democratic National Committee and party leaders to WikiLeaks at the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin through third parties, according to a new US intelligence report, senior US officials said on Thursday.”
On January 20, the day Trump took power, the New York Times ran a front page story headlined: “Wiretapped Data Used in Inquiry of Trump Aides”:
“American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said.”
On February 9, the New York Times reported on the conversations between Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kisylak:
“Weeks before President Trump’s inauguration, his national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, discussed American sanctions against Russia, as well as areas of possible cooperation, with that country’s ambassador to the United States, according to current and former American officials.”
The story cites the transcript of the conversation. How did the Times reporters get hold of this information? They cite “Federal officials who have read the transcript of the call.” How did those officials get hold of the transcript of a private conversation of an American citizen who was not yet a government employee? The new rules governing raw unredacted NSA intercepts made possible an interagency effort to disseminate and examine intercepts and other material, and there was a concerted effort to uncover anything that could be used against Trump.
On January 19, the McClatchy news service reported on the “get Trump” campaign launched by US law enforcement agencies:
“The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have collaborated for months in an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the November election, including whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided President-elect Donald Trump, two people familiar with the matter said.
“The agencies involved in the inquiry are the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the director of national intelligence, the sources said.”
To be clear: during the election, six law enforcement agencies were engaged in a systematic attempt to undermine the Trump campaign, at a certain point utilizing unredacted raw intelligence collected by the NSA and other agencies, all the while leaking like a sieve to their media camarilla.
And this campaign was international in scope, as pro-Clinton nutbag Kurt Eichenwald reported on February 15 in a story headlined: “US Allies Conduct Intelligence Operation Against Trump Staff, Intercepted Communications”:
“The Western European intelligence operations began in August, after the British government obtained information that people acting on behalf of Russia were in contact with members of the Trump campaign. Those details from the British were widely shared among the NATO allies in Europe. The Baltic nation has been gathering intelligence for at least that long, and has conducted surveillance of executives from the Trump Organization who were traveling in Europe.”
In a panic that their free ride would be over if Trump’s “America First” agenda was implemented, our European NATO “allies” worked in close coordination with the Washington cabal to subvert the US election process far more effectively than any Russian effort. And they didn’t need a FISA court to approve their spying on the Trump campaign.
Which brings up an important issue: there has been much ado about reports of a FISA court application, supposedly denied, and one that was narrowed and allegedly approved: the BBC, the Guardian, and the lunatic “reporter” Louise Mensch have all maintained that this was the case. Yet, as I have shown above, no such approval by the FISA court was ever required, although it would have a) made it much easier for the coup plotters to do their dirty work, and b) would have shielded them from any legal consequences. However, the fly in the ointment is that this would leave a paper trail that, once elected, Trump could simply declassify.
So the FISA issue is, I believe, a false trail, a distraction away from what really happened. They didn’t need the FISA court. They didn’t need a warrant. They simply opened a “back door” that, contrary to reports, had not been closed by the “USA Freedom Act,” and – unleashed by the relaxation of the rules previously governing dissemination of NSA intercepts – simply went through it.
Finally, we have another interesting “coincidence”: the brouhaha over NSA chief Admiral Michael Rogers, who top Obama administration officials wanted to fire, which started because Rogers traveled to Trump Tower to meet with the President-elect. The ostensible reasons given – various breaches of security – were odd: after all, why fire him just as Obama was leaving office? In short, the intensity of the campaign to fire him was out of all proportion to his alleged misdeeds. Aside from the security issue, the very fact that he was visiting Trump was supposedly a major issue: we were told “There’s only one President at a time.” But why shouldn’t someone who might be asked to continue to serve meet with the President-elect?
In retrospect, the visit – and the disproportionate anger it provoked from the Obama crowd – makes perfect sense. If the NSA was being used as a source for the campaign to delegitimize Trump, and build a case that the President-elect is a “Russian puppet,” as Hillary Clinton put it, then Rogers’ may have been trying to distance himself from the effort: “It wasn’t me, Boss!”
The campaign to frame up and discredit Trump and his associates is characteristic of how a police state routinely operates. A national security apparatus that vacuums up all our communications and stores them for later retrieval has been utilized by political operatives to go after their enemies – and not even the President of the United States is immune. This is something that one might expect to occur in, say, Turkey, or China: that it is happening here, to the cheers of much of the media and the Democratic party, is beyond frightening.
The irony is that the existence of this dangerous apparatus – which civil libertarians have warned could and probably would be used for political purposes – has been hailed by Trump and his team as a necessary and proper function of government. Indeed, Trump has called for the execution of the person who revealed the existence of this sinister engine of oppression – Edward Snowden. Absent Snowden’s revelations, we would still be in the dark as to the existence and vast scope of the NSA’s surveillance.
And now the monster Trump embraced in the name of “national security” has come back to bite him.
We hear all the time that what’s needed is an open and impartial “investigation” of Trump’s alleged “ties” to Russia. This is dangerous nonsense: does every wild-eyed accusation from embittered losers deserve a congressional committee armed with subpoena power bent on conducting an inquisition? Certainly not.
What must be investigated is the incubation of a clandestine political police force inside the national security apparatus, one that has been unleashed against Trump – and could be deployed against anyone.
This isn’t about Donald Trump. It’s about preserving what’s left of our old republic. I don’t want to live in a country where anonymous spooks with access to my most personal information can collect it and release it to their friends in our despicable media – do you?
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.