Matryoshkas are Russian nesting dolls. Inside each doll are several others, smaller but identically shaped characters, until you get to the smallest one inside. Studying what we have learned of the timeline -- and we still don’t have the entire story -- we see Wikileaks, the smallest, at the core, and Obama as the largest piece in what is the most historically outrageous misuse of the people and institutions of government for partisan advantage.
During the campaign, Wikileaks posted a number of email messages from the DNC -- largely Podesta, but Hillary as well. The communications (not well reported, but, in any event, more embarrassing tittle tattle) had been on unsecured accounts, poorly guarded and easily accessed because of carelessness on the part of the Hillary team. Assange, who published them, denied the source of this information was Russian hackers. This now has been confirmed by the heads of our intelligence community, but the Clinton camp claim that the Russians did it set the stage for the notion that her opponent was the favored candidate of the Russians.
Apart from the fact that our intelligence services have denied the claim, there are a number of reasons to believe that the Russians would have preferred Hillary to Trump. For one thing, Russia is in terrible financial shape and relies on its sales of oil and gas to Europe to stay afloat. Is it sensible to believe that the Russians would prefer Trump, who made clear he wanted to vastly increase U.S. oil and gas production, over Hillary, who gave every indication of keeping it down and the worldwide price of oil and gas higher? (I can’t imagine -- for the same reason -- that Iran and OPEC wouldn’t prefer her as well.) Why you do suppose the Russians have been funding “green” groups in Europe -- and possibly here -- who oppose fracking?
Secondly, for eight years Russian businesses and businessmen closely aligned with Putin pumped millions into the Clinton Foundation slush fund, paid her husband a half-million dollars for a single speech, and got in return a substantial portion of our uranium assets when, as Secretary of State, Hillary okayed their purchase. Finally, John Podesta, chair of Hillary’s presidential campaign wasclosely aligned with Russian interests. His brother was hired by the Russians to lobby for the uranium sale. He was on the board of a company closely aligned with Putin.
As the crack investigative reporter Richard Pollock notes:
John Podesta, national chairman of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, may have opened himself up to a Russian “influence campaign” designed to temper his views of the Kremlin, The Daily Caller News Foundation (TheDCNF) Investigative Group has learned.Influence campaigns are conducted by many governments -- including the United States -- with the aim of influencing decision makers in other countries to realign their geopolitical worldviews more closely to the influencing country.Some national security experts interviewed by The DCNF wonder if Podesta may still be a target of Russian influence. They trace the campaign back to his company board membership, in which one-third of the board were top Russian businessmen with direct ties to the Kremlin.The last time Podesta talked negatively about Russia was Dec. 18, 2016, when he charged in an NBC “Meet the Press” interview the 2016 election was “distorted by the Russian intervention.”The former Clinton national campaign chairman has since been silent, even as other former top Clinton aides, such as Robby Mook, Brian Fallon and Jim Margolis have repeatedly aimed high-decibel rhetoric at President Donald Trump about Russian “meddling” in the 2016 presidential race.[snip]Podesta’s silence is particularly striking, according to retired Air Force Col. James Waurishuk.“We haven’t heard very much from Podesta lately, particularly on the subject of Russia’s interference in the elections,” Waurishuk told the DCNF. He served on the National Security Council and worked on “information operations” for military intelligence.
The suggestion is that he’s staying out of it because the Russians want this chatter about their influence silenced.
In any event, Russia has now been cleared of the claim, yet in the recesses of the dimmer voters’ minds the charge remains a cogent explanation of why their candidate lost the election.
The National Security Agency and the FISA
The NSA engages in global monitoring for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence. It does by passive means (signals Intelligence) and active means like physically bugging systems and through subversive software. It assists and coordinates SIGINT elements at other government organization like the DIA.
Domestic communications can be intercepted under two circumstances: in the first instance to protect us against sabotage or international terrorism or sabotage. In such a case, when authorized by the president through the attorney general, it can be done without a court order provided that it is for only one year and only to acquire foreign intelligence information and there is real likelihood that a U.S. person is a party to the communication. Even then it must be done in such a way to minimize the impact on the U.S. person. The attorney general must report such surveillance under seal to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and report their compliance to both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
Surveillance can also be done on a court order from FISA when the attorney general persuades the court that there is probable cause (i.e. a reasonable suspicion) that the target is a “foreign power” or an “agent of a foreign power” and the minimization requirements for information pertaining to U.S. persons will be followed. Such orders may be approved for 90 days,120 days, or a year.
FISA court authorization is almost always granted. Reliable reports indicate that the Obama administration sought authorization in July of last year when Trump appeared a likely opponent (the application is still secret) and it was denied. These reports also state that a pared-down application was sought in October and granted by the court. We have no idea on what basis the Department of Justice sought these warrants nor who the purported target was.
From the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, we learned this week that Trump team’s conversations were caught in the surveillance, that for over nine months this was never reported to his committee. Moreover, it is public knowledge that three days before the inauguration in January, for no legitimate purpose, President Obama authorized wide distribution of the surveillance reports to 16 other agencies, the names of U.S. persons involved in the conversations were not redacted, the contents were of no intelligence value and they were widely leaked -- a perfectly predictable consequence of spreading the raw data so widely in contrast to normal redaction and dissemination patterns. Suspicious minds like mine think may well be to further hamper the incoming administration by leaks designed to embarrass members of his team. Nunes also reported the post-election spying “had nothing to do with Russia.” By January 20, for example, the New York Times reported that Trump had been wiretapped.
We learned this week from Nunes’ work that the investigation is continuing.
On his own Mike Rogers, head of NSA, met privately with Trump shortly after the inauguration. We have no details of their discussion, but my guess is he told him what had happened and how. At the moment, Rogers appears to be the sole white hat in our intelligence network. But he may not be the only one, which, I think, would mean a number of former Obama officials have to be looking for lawyers.
Tom Lipscomb, a former reporter and online friend, thinks the white hats in the intelligence community fed the truth about the wiretapping directly to Trump so he could weed out from their ranks the Obama confederates. Like him, I think the Trump tweet that he was wiretapped was smart. He’s giving “fair warning to what is coming,” and the claims that Trump was engaged in some “crazy conspiracy” are evaporating just as had the earlier nonsense that he and the Russians were conspiring via Wikileaks.
Christopher Steele and John McCain
Christopher Steele is a former British intelligence agent of dubious character and credibility. He had been hired early by the Clinton camp to dig up dirt on Trump. When Hillary ended that agreement, unnamed Republicans engaged him to continue, and when they stopped paying him, the FBI -- for as yet unexplained reasons -- took him up. His “dossier” is preposterous, based on accounts to his aides from unnamed and thus unverifiable sources. In the rare instance when they provide recognizable details, they have been proven false. As incredible as the “dossier” was, it was used to tar Trump with salacious nonsense and to further encourage the ridiculous notion that he and his team were Russian agents.
There are three different versions of how John McCain, a bitter #NeverTrumper always seeking media cuddles and enamored by globalization, came to get the dossier -- he says, in December. In one version, he got it from a member of the McCain Institute, in other published accounts he dispatched someone abroad to get it, and in a third he first heard of it from a former British ambassador while at a meeting in Halifax. That he’s offered various tales in itself suggests some dissembling on his part. Nevertheless, he concedes he widely distributed the scurrilous dossier to the media and members of Congress. He was either a useful dupe of those determined to bring down Trump or a willing partner of theirs. Right now, he’s flailing about abroad, attacking the president and moaning that Trump hasn’t yet met with him.
John Nolte, writing for the Daily Caller, highlights how it is apparent that the media knew of the spying operation and later covered it up:
“Of course the media knew what the Obama administration had done. First off, when they thought the news would hurt Trump, the national media publicly reported on the fact that the Obama administration had spied on Team Trump. It was only after that knowledge became a liability for Precious Barry that the media pretended otherwise. In other words, they LIED.”
Jim Geraghty at National Review cites a specific example of the media-leaker waltz:
On January 12, the Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote:According to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions? The Logan Act (though never enforced) bars U.S. citizens from correspondence intending to influence a foreign government about “disputes” with the United States. Was its spirit violated? The Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.This is a leak of classified information. Michael Flynn was not, as far as we know, a target of any U.S. government surveillance. He was one of the figures whose conversations was “incidentally” recorded, presumably as part of the regular monitoring of Kislyak.People within the U.S. government are not supposed to take the information that is incidentally recorded and then run to David Ignatius because they don’t like the American citizen who was recorded. That’s not the purpose of our domestic counterintelligence operations. Even if Flynn had violated the Logan Act -- which, as we all know, no one has never been prosecuted for violating -- there are legitimate avenues for dealing with that, namely going to law enforcement and a prosecutor.(Invoking the Logan Act in this circumstance is particularly nonsensical, because the interpretation Ignatius floats would criminalize just about any discussion between a presidential candidate, a president-elect or his team and any representative of a foreign government on any matter of importance. If you ask a foreign official if his country would make a concession on Issue X in exchange for a U.S. concession on Issue Y, BOOM! Call out the SWAT teams, we’ve got a Logan Act violation!)There are a lot of reasons not to like Michael Flynn, but that doesn’t change the fact that somebody broke the law and leaked classified information in an effort to get him in trouble. That is wrong and that is illegal, and Nunes is right to point out we’re going down a dangerous road when information collected by U.S. intelligence agencies about American citizens starts getting strategically leaked for partisan purposes.
No matter how many dolls are hidden in the nest -- Comey, Clapper, Brennan, Lynch -- it is undeniable that they all fit under the big one -- Obama. It was he who authorized the surveillance and multiagency distribution of intelligence -- in Bob Woodward’s reading, “highly classified gossip” -- about political opponent Trump and his team -- invading their privacy in violation of the law. If you were inclined to want Americans to lose faith in their intelligence community and media you couldn’t have done a better job than they did themselves. The Russians didn’t have to do a thing.