Former FBI Director James Comey testified to Congress last Wednesday that he did not remember much about what was going on when the FBI deceived the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court into approving four warrants for surveillance of Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
Few outsiders are aware that those warrants covered not only Page but also anyone Page was in contact with as well as anyone Page’s contacts were in contact with – under the so-called two-hop surveillance procedure. In other words, the warrants extend coverage two hops from the target – that is, anyone Page talks to and anyone they, in turn, talk to.
At the hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsay Graham reviewed the facts (most of them confirmed by the Department of Justice inspector general) showing that none of the four FISA warrants were warranted.
Graham gave a chronological rundown of the evidence that Comey and his “folks” either knew, or should have known, that by signing fraudulent FISA warrant applications they were perpetrating a fraud on the court.
The “evidence” used by Comey and his “folks” to “justify” warrants included Page’s contacts with Russian officials (CIA had already told the FBI those contacts had been approved) and the phony as a three-dollar bill “Steele dossier” paid for by the Democrats.
Two Hops to the World
But let’s not hop over the implications of two-hop surveillance, which apparently remains in effect today. Few understand the significance of what is known in the trade as “two-hop” coverage. According to a former NSA technical director, Bill Binney, when President Barack Obama approved the current version of “two hops,” the NSA was ecstatic – and it is easy to see why.
Let’s say Page was in touch with Donald Trump (as candidate or president); Trump’s communications could then be surveilled, as well. Or, let’s say Page was in touch with Google. That would enable NSA to cover pretty much the entire world. A thorough read of the transcript of Wednesday’s hearing, particularly the Q-and-A, shows that this crucial two-hop dimension never came up – or that those aware of it, were too afraid to mention it. It was as if Page were the only one being surveilled.
Here is a sample of The New York Times’s typical coverage of such a hearing:
“Senate Republicans sought on Wednesday to promote their efforts to rewrite the narrative of the Trump-Russia investigation before Election Day, using a hearing with the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey to cast doubt on the entire inquiry by highlighting problems with a narrower aspect of it.
“Led by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee spent hours burrowing into mistakes and omissions made by the FBI when it applied for court permission to wiretap the former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in 2016 and 2017. Republicans drew on that flawed process to renew their claims that Mr. Comey and his agents had acted with political bias, ignoring an independent review that debunked the notion of a plot against President Trump.”
Flawed process? Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz pinpointed no few than 17 “serious performance failures” related to the four FISA warrant applications on Page. Left unsaid is the fact that Horowitz’s investigation was tightly circumscribed. Basically, he asked the major players “Were you biased?” And they said “No.”
Does the NYT believe we were all born yesterday? When the Horowitz report was released in early December 2019, Fox News’ Chris Wallace found those serious performance failures “pretty shocking.” He quoted an earlier remark by Rep. Will Hurd (R,TX) a CIA alumnus:
“Why is it when you have 17 mistakes — 17 things that are misrepresented or lapses — and every one of them goes against the president and for investigating him, you have to say, ‘Is that a coincidence’? … it is either gross incompetence or intentionality.”
Throughout the four-hour hearing on Wednesday, Comey was politely smug – a hair short of condescending.
There was not the slightest sign he thought he would ever be held accountable for what happened under his watch. You see, four years ago, Comey “knew” Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in; that explains how he, together with CIA Director John Brennan and National Intelligence Director James Clapper, felt free to take vast liberties with the Constitution and the law before the election, and then launched a determined effort to hide their tracks post election.
Trump had been forewarned. On Jan. 3, 2017, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), with an assist from Rachel Maddow, warned Trump not to get crosswise with the “intelligence community,” noting the IC has six ways to Sunday to get back at you.
Three days later, Comey told President-elect Trump, in a one-on-one conversation, what the FBI had on him – namely, the “Steele Dossier.” The media already had the dossier, but were reluctant (for a host of obvious reasons) to publish it. When it leaked that Comey had briefed Trump on it, they finally had the needed peg.
New Parvenu in Washington
After the tête-à-tête with Comey on Jan. 6, 2017, newcomer Trump didn’t know what hit him. Perhaps no one told him of Schumer’s warning; or maybe he dismissed it out of hand. Is that what Comey was up to on Jan. 6, 2017?
Was the former FBI director protesting too much in his June 2017 testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee when he insisted he’d tried to make it clear to Trump that briefing him on the unverified but scurrilous information in the dossier wasn’t intended to be threatening?
It took Trump several months to figure out what was being done to him.
Trump to NYT: ‘Leverage’ (aka Blackmail)
In a long Oval Office interview with the Times on July 19, 2017, Trump said he thought Comey was trying to hold the dossier over his head.
“…Look what they did to me with Russia, and it was totally phony stuff. … the dossier … Now, that was totally made-up stuff,” Trump said. “I went there [to Moscow] for one day for the Miss Universe contest, I turned around, I went back. It was so disgraceful. It was so disgraceful.
“When he [Comey] brought it [the dossier] to me, I said this is really made-up junk. I didn’t think about anything. I just thought about, man, this is such a phony deal. … I said, this is – honestly, it was so wrong, and they didn’t know I was just there for a very short period of time. It was so wrong, and I was with groups of people. It was so wrong that I really didn’t, I didn’t think about motive. I didn’t know what to think other than, this is really phony stuff.”
The Steele dossier, paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign and compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, includes a tale of Trump cavorting with prostitutes, who supposedly urinated on each other before the same bed the Obamas had slept in at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton hotel.
Trump told the Times: “I think [Comey] shared it so that … I would think he had it out there. … As leverage.”
Even with that lesson in hand, Trump still proved virtually powerless in dealing with the National Security State/intelligence community. The president has evidenced neither the skill nor the guts to even attempt to keep the National Security State in check.
Comey, no doubt doesn’t want to be seen as a “dirty cop,” With Trump in power and Attorney General William Barr his enforcer, there was always the latent threat that they would use the tools at their disposal to expose and even prosecute Comey and his National Security State colleagues for what the president now knows was done during his candidacy and presidency.
Despite their braggadocio about taking on the Deep State, and the continuing investigations, it seems doubtful that anything serious is likely to happen before Election Day, Nov. 3.
On Wednesday, Comey had the air of one who is equally sure, this time around, who will be the next president. No worries. Comey could afford to be politely vapid for five more weeks, and then be off the hook for any and all “serious performance failures” – some of them felonies.
Thus, a significant downside to a Biden victory is that the National Security State will escape accountability for unconscionable misbehavior, running from misdemeanors to insurrection. No small thing.
Sen. Graham concluded the hearing with a pious plea: “Somebody needs to be held accountable.” Yet, surely, he has been around long enough to know the odds.
Given his disastrous presidency, either way the prospects are bleak: no accountability for the National Security State, which is to be expected, or four more years of Trump.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His 27-year career as a CIA analyst includes serving as Chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and preparer/briefer of the President’s Daily Brief. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). This originally appeared at Consortium News.