Many in the media are diving deeply into minutiae in order to discredit any notion that President Trump might have been onto something in March when he fired off a series of tweets claiming President Obama had “tapped” “wires” in Trump Tower just before the election.
According to media reports this week, the FBI did indeed “wiretap” the former head of Trump’s campaign, Paul Manafort, both before and after Trump was elected.
If Trump officials - or Trump himself - communicated with Manafort during the wiretaps, they would have been recorded, too.
But we’re missing the bigger story.
If these reports are accurate, it means U.S. intelligence agencies secretly surveilled at least a half dozen Trump associates. And those are just the ones we know about.
Besides Manafort, the officials include former Trump advisers Carter Page and Michael Flynn. Last week, we discovered multiple Trump “transition officials” were “incidentally” captured during government surveillance of a foreign official. We know this because former Obama adviser Susan Rice reportedly admitted “unmasking,” or asking to know the identities of, the officials. Spying on U.S. citizens is considered so sensitive, their names are supposed to be hidden or “masked,” even inside the government, to protect their privacy.
In May, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates acknowledged they, too, reviewed communications of political figures, secretly collected under President Obama.
Barely an eyebrow was raised in the media.
Weaponization of Intel Agencies?
Nobody wants our intel agencies to be used like the Stasi in East Germany; the secret police spying on its own citizens for political purposes. The prospect of our own NSA, CIA and FBI becoming politically weaponized has been shrouded by untruths, accusations and justifications.
You’ll recall DNI Clapper falsely assured Congress in 2013 that the NSA was not collecting “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.”
Intel agencies secretly monitored conversations of members of Congress while the Obama administration negotiated the Iran nuclear deal.
In 2014, the CIA got caught spying on Senate Intelligence committee staffers, though CIA Director John Brennan had explicitly denied that.
There were also wiretaps on then-Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) in 2011 under Obama.
The same happened under President George W. Bush to former Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-Calif.).
Journalists have been targeted, too. This internal email exposed by WikiLeaks should give everyone chills. It did me.
Dated Sept. 21, 2010, the “global intelligence” firm Stratfor wrote:
[John] Brennan [then an Obama Homeland Security adviser] is behind the witch hunts of investigative journalists learning information from inside the beltway sources.
Note -- There is specific tasker from the WH to go after anyone printing materials negative to the Obama agenda (oh my.) Even the FBI is shocked. The Wonder Boys must be in meltdown mode...
The government subsequently got caught monitoring journalists at Fox News, the Associated Press, and, as I allege in a federal lawsuit, my computers while I worked as an investigative correspondent at CBS News. On Aug. 7, 2013, CBS News publicly announced:
…correspondent Sharyl Attkisson’s computer was hacked by ‘an unauthorized, external, unknown party on multiple occasions,’ confirming Attkisson’s previous revelation of the hacking.
Then, as now, instead of getting the bigger story, some in the news media and quasi-news media published false and misleading narratives pushed by government interests. They implied the computer intrusions were the stuff of vivid imagination, conveniently dismissed forensic evidence from three independent examinations that they didn’t review. All seemed happy enough to let news of the government’s alleged unlawful behavior fade away, rather than get to the bottom of it.
I have spent more than two years litigating against the Department of Justice for the computer intrusions. Forensics have revealed dates, times and methods of some of the illegal activities. The software used was proprietary to a federal intel agency. The intruders deployed a keystroke monitoring program, accessed the CBS News corporate computer system, listened in on my conversations by activating the computer’s microphone and used Skype to exfiltrate files.
We survived the government’s latest attempt to dismiss my lawsuit. There’s another hearing Friday. To date, the Trump Department of Justice — like the Obama Department of Justice — is fighting me in court and working to keep hidden the identities of those who accessed a government internet protocol address found in my computers.
Evidence continues to build. I recently filed new information unearthed through forensic exams. As one expert told the court, it was “not a mistake; it is not a random event; and it is not technically possible for these IP addresses to simply appear on her computer systems without activity by someone using them as part of the cyber-attack.”
It’s difficult not to see patterns in the government’s behavior, unless you’re wearing blinders.
- The intelligence community secretly expanded its authority in 2011 so it can monitor innocent U.S. citizens like you and me for doing nothing more than mentioning a target’s name a single time.
- In January 2016, a top secret inspector general report found the NSA violated the very laws designed to prevent abuse.
- In 2016, Obama officials searched through intelligence on U.S. citizens a record 30,000 times, up from 9,500 in 2013.
- Two weeks before the election, at a secret hearing before the FISA court overseeing government surveillance, NSA officials confessed they’d violated privacy safeguards “with much greater frequency” than they’d admitted. The judge accused them of “institutional lack of candor’” and said, “this is a very serious Fourth Amendment issue.”
Officials involved in the surveillance and unmasking of U.S. citizens have said their actions were legal and not politically motivated. And there are certainly legitimate areas of inquiry to be made by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. But look at the patterns. It seems that government monitoring of journalists, members of Congress and political enemies — under multiple administrations — has become more common than anyone would have imagined two decades ago. So has the unmasking of sensitive and highly protected names by political officials.
Those deflecting with minutiae are missing the point. To me, they sound like the ones who aren’t thinking.
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Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) is an Emmy-award winning investigative journalist, author of the New York Times bestsellers “The Smear” and “Stonewalled,” and host of Sinclair’s Sunday TV program “Full Measure.”