Editor’s Note: A Special Report from the Accuracy in Media Center for Investigative Journalism; Cliff Kincaid, director.
The British Guardian posted a report on April 13 claiming that its sources now admit that the British spy agency GCHQ was digitally wiretapping Trump associates going back to late 2015. This was presumably when the December 2015 Moscow meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn took place.
This runs contrary to the blanket nature of the denial insinuated in GCHQ’s carefully crafted statement of March 17 claiming it was all “nonsense” and “utterly ridiculous” that they conducted surveillance of “then president-elect” Donald Trump (emphasis added). The surveillance went back a year before he became “president-elect.”
President Trump’s claim of being “wire tapped” has been vindicated. Indeed, the surveillance is far more extensive than even he suspected at the time.
Based on the new disclosures, we can safely conclude that the world’s most advanced and extensive system of computerized espionage was indeed used against him and people he worked with, for political purposes, with the knowledge and approval of top Obama officials such as CIA Director John Brennan (one major name implicated by the Guardian).
Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano, who said GCHQ was involved in wiretapping Trump, has also been vindicated. Fox News owes Napolitano an apology for yanking him off the air for a week for making that “controversial” and now-verified assertion.
Trump was right
President Trump stressed the pervasive “extent” of this Obama political “wiretapping” to Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business in an Oval Office interview on April 11 (aired April 12). “Me and so many other people” surveilled, Trump said. He explained again that he had picked up the “wire tapped” terminology straight from the headline of the New York Times (of Jan. 20) as he has explained before (on March 15; see AIM report).
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Now we’re learning that GCHQ did wiretap Trump for a year before the election. “Trump” is, of course, shorthand for Trump associates and possibly Trump himself directly, depending on context. But GCHQ is trying to put a positive spin on what it admits would be illegal spying on U.S. citizens if done by U.S. agencies.
The Guardian’s sources claim a heroic role for the British GCHQ as a courageous “whistleblower” in warning U.S. agencies to “Watch out” about Trump and Russia – but carefully avoiding mention of the U.S.’s NSA, which must be protected at all costs as part of the NSA-GCHQ spy-on-each-other’s-citizens “wiretap shell game.” (See AIM Special Report of March 18.)
These sources virtually admit the mutual “wiretap shell game” by inadvertently mentioning the Trump-Russia data was originally passed on to the U.S. by GCHQ as part of a “routine exchange” of intelligence. The use of this term, “exchange,” suggests what we had previously reported – the shell-game “exchange” between the NSA and GCHQ where they can spy on each other’s citizens and deny it all.
Past British prime ministers have been implicated in various scandals involving wiretaps. Some have involved the “Echelon” global surveillance system set up by the NSA with its counterparts in the other “Five Eyes” nations – U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Any one of these countries is able to circumvent domestic laws against spying on their own citizens by asking another Echelon member country to do it for them. This is precisely the “wiretap shell game” used by the Obama administration to have British GCHQ spy on Trump, as outlined by Judge Napolitano and his sources.
To avoid unraveling the longstanding Five Eyes spying “wiretap shell game,” the GCHQ had to pretend they “routinely” came across this Trump-Russia wiretap data “by chance,” unprompted by requests from U.S. agencies (such as the NSA or CIA) or by Obama officials, working outside normal NSA chain of command on Signals Intelligence or SIGINT (as Judge Napolitano reported on March 14).
So the heroic British GCHQ comes to the rescue with conveniently accidental (our word) captures of wiretap communications between Trump people and sinister-sounding “Russian intelligence agents,” with the wiretaps sent here to help out the U.S. agencies. We are supposed to believe the U.S. agencies and the Obama White House just passively received this bombshell wiretap data from GCHQ, no questions asked, for over a year from late 2015 to early 2017. (The Guardian has no end date for the surveillance, such as the Nov. 8 election, and indicates continued surveillance into the Trump transition, with the FBI “throwing more resources” into the investigation then.)
Did Obama officials ever say, “Wait! Stop sending us this material, it may be illegal!” It does not appear so. Hence, the questions that have to be asked by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are:
- Were there requests for more wiretap data on Trump and his team?
- Were there requests for more complete transcripts, or even voice recordings?
This “alerting” of the U.S. on Trump-Russia communications was needed, according to the Guardian and its U.S. and U.K. intelligence sources, because the U.S. agencies were “asleep” or “untrained,” or were legally prohibited from “examining the private communications of American citizens without warrants.” But to the GCHQ, America is a “foreign” nation and evidently they think they are free to spy on Americans “without warrants.”
Obama’s CIA and the anti-Trump task force
Previous reporting has said that an interagency task force of six U.S. intelligence agencies was set up to investigate the alleged Trump-connected names supposedly discovered in “incidental collection” of digital wiretap surveillance of Russian communications. The six agencies are said to consist of the CIA, NSA, FBI, the Justice Department’s National Security Division, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Treasury Department financial crimes unit.
Until now, no one has known who in the Obama administration set up the task force, who directs it, what its operating directives state, what its activities have entailed, and who it is really accountable to.
But the Guardian is now reporting that it was CIA Director John Brennan who initiated, in about August 2016, what clearly seems to be an illegal domestic investigation of the Trump political campaign, which would be prohibited by the CIA charter.
Reportedly “Brennan used [British] GCHQ information and intelligence from other partners to launch a major interagency investigation.” The infamous fake “Trump dossier” is apparently dragged in too.
Brennan then proceeded to give highly classified “urgent” briefings to individual members of the congressional “Gang of Eight.” Beginning on about Aug. 25, with then-Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., on that date, CIA chief Brennan claimed that the Russian email hackings of the Democratic National Committee were designed to help Trump win the election, according to the New York Times. These partisan briefings represent the politicization of the CIA under Obama, and are of dubious legality.
In September 2016, this anti-Trump intelligence task force changed the previous “incidental” collection to outright direct targeting of Trump people so that their communications with Russia were “actively monitored,” not merely retrieved retroactively in digital archives with names having to be laboriously “unmasked.” (See also New York Times Jan.19/20, Feb. 14.)
Unmasking is unnecessary if one starts with the specific names of Trump personnel first, and then flags them for future surveillance, going forward in time. In that case, the “actively monitored” and flagged Trump names automatically trigger alerts in the NSA-GCHQ computers whenever the names turn up. These wiretap reports would then have been submitted to Obama officials at the level of national security adviser Susan Rice and CIA director Brennan, and perhaps to Obama himself.
Interestingly, the Guardian’s sources carefully try to avoid implicating or involving the NSA in GCHQ’s allegedly unprompted reporting on intercepted wiretap data on Trump associates. It’s the “shell game” again with the NSA and GCHQ covering for each other.
British GCHQ director implicated
Instead, the Guardian’s anonymous intelligence sources say that then-director of GCHQ Robert Hannigan passed on a top secret “director level” report on Trump-Russia in “summer 2016” to CIA Director John Brennan, rather than to the NSA. However, if GCHQ was using NSA’s digital wiretap facilities to “routinely” spy on Trump people, then the NSA would be implicated by the very arrangement used.
As we predicted at AIM, the unexpected sudden resignation of GCHQ director Hannigan, announced on Jan. 23, makes him the potential villain and scapegoat. Hannigan stayed on his job until his replacement took office on April 7.
In an unprecedented BBC interview on April 5, Hannigan fired a parting shot at the Judge Napolitano and White House reports of his GCHQ’s spying on Trump. Hannigan snidely dismissed the reports, saying: “We get crazy conspiracy theories thrown at us every day. We ignore most of them. On this occasion, it was so crazy that we felt we should say so, and we have said it’s a ridiculous suggestion.”
The Guardian’s report refutes Hannigan, barely a week after he left office, possibly with official connivance or approval. But why is Hannigan getting thrown under the bus so soon? Is it fear of the impending findings of U.S. congressional and official investigations exposing GCHQ?
Such reports in the British press on highly sensitive intelligence matters surely must have been quietly cleared by the British government as a first fallback position on GCHQ spying on Trump. Otherwise, the Guardian would be in deep trouble under the U.K.’s Official Secrets Act and its D-Notice procedure to suppress or censor news stories on secret intelligence matters.
Finally, the British also seem to be trying to spread the blame around to a laundry list of other countries allegedly passing on intelligence about Trump-Russia contacts – Germany, Estonia, Poland, Australia, the Dutch and the French DGSE.
Still, no “smoking gun” has ever been found in any of this wiretap material, for it would already have been leaked like Lt. Gen. Flynn’s fairly benign conversations with the Russian ambassador that got him fired.
Despite the sensational news from the Washington Post that the FBI obtained a FISA warrant to wiretap ex-Trump adviser Carter Page, which may even still be in effect, his “Russian contacts” also seem to be completely ordinary and routine. Page is so confident of his innocence that he has been going on various television news programs to talk openly about his work on Russia, supplying Russian contacts with some of his New York University classroom materials.
To be sure, a certain large percentage of these kinds of business meetings with Russians will turn out to be with undercover Russian intelligence officers – unbeknownst to the Western business and academic people meeting them. The media portray them as suspicious. But this kind of Russian spy game has always been going on since the Cold War and is nothing new.
The FISA warrant, rather than proving any malfeasance by Carter Page – again no “smoking gun” – only adds to the evidence that what President Trump said from the start was true: that Trump and his associates were under electronic surveillance.
What do the wiretaps on Trump actually say? The media don’t want to know if the NSA-GCHQ wiretaps actually exonerate President Trump.
One of the advantages of the adversarial system in the courts is that advocates on the opposing side ideally get a fair chance – unlike the one-sided media with journalists who, at the rate of more than 90 percent, contributed to the Hillary Clinton campaign. (See this Columbia Journalism Review study of election records.)
Questions not asked of Rice or other sources by the media include whether she or other Obama officials “flagged” the unmasked Trump team names for future NSA (or British GCHQ) automatic unmasking and delivery of transcripts and summary reports.
Did the Obama people regularize the “unmasking” so that routinely a new retroactive search was automatically ordered with automatic unmaskings? That would be another way to turn “incidental collection” into an effectively ongoing wiretap order. Did President Obama or Rice or others request actual sound recordings of Trump and others to review?
Did the Obama team “unmask” other presidential candidates and associates besides Trump, such as Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who visited Moscow in December 2015 and dined with Putin? Fox is reporting that congressional investigators are now looking into whether other presidential candidates and members of Congress were surveilled, too. In 2014, CIA director Brennan was caught red-handed lying to the Senate about the CIA’s criminal hacking of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s computer system.
We are told that many, if not most, of these wiretaps and unmaskings of Trump people were not even wiretaps about Russia or “incidental collection” on legitimate foreign intelligence subjects, though they may have begun that way.
The evidence now indicates that the information was procured for partisan political purposes – to spy on the Trump opposition to Hillary Clinton using the full weight of the U.S. government’s NSA spying apparatus (or NSA facilities used by British GCHQ).
Pompeo must clean out the CIA
Trump CIA Director Mike Pompeo is in a position to get to the bottom of this scandal. Yet, on April 13, 2017, in his first public speech as director, he seemed to indicate that the evidence being developed in connection with the CIA’s role in the illegal surveillance of President Trump was going to be ignored or brushed aside. It was a forceful, even strident, defense of the agency.
“I inherited an agency that has a real appreciation for the law and for the Constitution,” he claimed. “Despite fictional depictions meant to sell books or box-office tickets, we are not an untethered or rogue agency. So yes, while we have some truly awesome capabilities at our disposal, our officers do not operate in areas or against targets that are rightfully and legally off-limits to us.”
The evidence suggests the opposite. The CIA under Obama’s CIA Director Brennan was involved in illegal surveillance, using those “truly awesome capabilities,” against political targets that should have been off-limits.
One of those targets was the president who appointed Pompeo as CIA director.
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