From 9/11 to Spygate: The National Security Deep State

Front Page Magazine, by Daniel Greenfield, June 14, 2018:

On September 4, 2001, Robert Mueller took over the FBI. At his confirmation hearings, fraud had overshadowed discussions of terrorism. And as FBI Director, Mueller quickly diverged from the common understanding that the attacks that killed 3,000 people had been an act of war rather than a crime.

In 2008, Abdullah Saleh al-Ajmi, who had been unleashed from Guantanamo Bay, carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq. Al-Ajmi had been represented by Thomas Wilner who was being paid by the Kuwaiti government.

Wilner was a pal of Robert Mueller. And when the families were having dinner together, Mueller got up and said, “I want to toast Tom Wilner. He’s doing just what an American lawyer should do.”

“I don’t know what he was doing from inside the government. I’d like to find out,” Wilner mused.

We know some of what Mueller was doing. The same official who paved the way for raiding the president’s lawyer, who illegally seized material from the Trump transition team and whose case is based in no small part on illegal eavesdropping, fought alongside Comey against surveilling terrorists. Materials involving the Muslim Brotherhood were purged. Toward the dawn of the second Obama term, Mueller met with CAIR and other Islamist groups and a green curtain fell over national security.

But the surveillance wasn’t going anywhere. Instead it was being redirected to new targets.

Those targets were not, despite the wave of hysterical conspiracy theories convulsing the media, the Russians. Mueller’s boss was still quite fond of them. Barack Obama did have foreign enemies that he wanted to spy on. And there were plenty of domestic enemies who could be caught up in that trap.

By his second term, the amateur was coming to understand the incredible surveillance powers at his disposal and how they could be used to spy on Americans under the pretext of fighting foreign threats.

Two birds. One stone.

While the Mueller purge was going on, Obama was pushing talks with Iran. There was one obstacle and it wasn’t Russia. The Russians were eager to play Obama with a fake nuke deal. It was the Israelis who were the problem. And it was the Israelis who were being spied on by Obama’s surveillance regime.

But it wasn’t just the Israelis.

Iran was Obama’s big shot at a foreign policy legacy. As the year dragged on, it was becoming clear that the Arab Spring wouldn’t be anything he would want to be remembered for. By the time Benghazi went from a humanitarian rescue operation to one of the worst disasters of the term, it was clearly over.

Obama was worried that the Israelis would launch a strike against Iran’s nuclear program. And the surveillance and media leaks were meant to dissuade the Israelis from scuttling his legacy. But he was also worried about Netanyahu’s ability to persuade American Jews and members of Congress to oppose his nuclear sellout. And that was where the surveillance leapfrogged from foreign to domestic.

The NSA intercepted communications between Israelis and Americans, including members of Congress, and then passed the material along to the White House. Despite worries by some officials that “that the executive branch would be accused of spying on Congress”, the White House “believed the intercepted information could be valuable to counter Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign.”

The precedent was even more troubling than it seemed.

Obama Inc. had defined its position in an unresolved political debate between the White House and Congress as the national interest. And had winkingly authorized surveillance on Congress to protect this policy in a domestic political debate. That precedent would then be used to spy on members of the Trump transition team and to force out Trump’s national security adviser.

National security had become indistinguishable from the agenda of the administration. And that agenda, like the rest of Obama’s unilateral policies, was enshrined as permanent. Instead of President Trump gaining the same powers, his opposition to that agenda was treated as a national security threat.

And once Obama was out of office, Comey and other Obama appointees would protect that agenda.

We still don’t know the full scope of Spygate. But media reports have suggested that Obama officials targeted countries opposed to the Iran sellout, most prominently Israel and the UAE, and then eavesdropped on meetings between them and between figures on the Trump team.

Obama had begun his initial spying as a way of gaining inside information on Netanyahu’s campaign against the Iran deal. But the close election and its aftermath significantly escalated what had been a mere Watergate into an active effort to not only spy, but pursue criminal charges against the political opposition. The surveillance state had inevitably moved on to the next stage, the police state with its informants, dossiers, pre-dawn raids, state’s witnesses, entrapments and still more surveillance.

And the police state requires cops. Someone had to do the dirty work for Susan Rice.

Comey, Mueller and the other cops had likely been complicit in the administration’s abuses. Somewhere along the way, they had become the guys watching over the Watergate burglars. Spying on the political opposition is, short of spying for the enemy, the most serious crime that such men can commit.

Why then was it committed?

To understand that, we have to go back to 9/11. Those days may seem distant now, but the attacks offered a crossroads. One road led to a war against our enemies. The other to minimizing the conflict.

President George W. Bush tried to fight that war, but he was undermined by men like Mueller and Comey. Their view of the war was the same as that of their future boss, not their current one, certainly not the view as the man currently sitting in the White House whom they have tried to destroy.

Every lie has some truth in it. Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty, his frequent claims of allegiance to American ideals, are true, as he sees it, if not as he tells it. Men like Comey and Mueller believed that the real threat came not from Islamic terrorists, but from our overreaction to them. They believed that Bush was a threat. And Trump was the worst threat imaginable who had to be stopped by any means.

What Comey and Mueller are loyal to is the established way of doing things. And they conflate that with our national ideals, as establishment thugs usually do. Neither of them are unique. Washington D.C. is filled with men and women who are registered Republicans, who believe in lowering taxes, who frown at the extremities of identity politics, but whose true faith is in the natural order of government.

Mueller and Comey represent a class. And Obama and Clinton were easily able to corrupt and seduce that class into abandoning its duties and oaths, into serving as its deep state against domestic foes.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodies? It’s the old question of who watches the watchmen that no society has found a good answer to. And the answer is inevitably that the watchers, watch themselves and everyone else. What began as national security measures against Islamic terrorism was twisted by Obama and his deep state allies into the surveillance of the very people fighting Islamic terrorism.

Spygate was the warped afterbirth of our failure to meaningfully confront Islamic terrorism. Instead, the political allies of the terrorists and the failed watchmen who allowed them to strike so many times, got together to shoot the messengers warning about the terror threat. The problem had never been the lack of power, but the lack of will and the lack of integrity in an establishment unwilling to do its job.

After 9/11, extraordinary national security powers were brought into being to fight Islamic terror. Instead those powers were used to suppress those who told the truth about Islamic terrorism.

***

Watergate Done Legally: The Predictable Truth About Spying

American Greatness, by Angelo Codevilla, May 24, 2018:

The tug-of war (and it is a war) between Fox News alongside a handful of Republicans on one hand, and the solid front of U.S. government agencies, the Democratic Party, and the mainstream media (Google included) on the other, is focused on who in the Department of Justice and the FBI did what and why to start the July 31, 2016 “Crossfire Hurricane” counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign, to secure a FISA warrant for electronic intercepts of Trump advisers, and to vector Stefan Halper and possibly others to spy on them directly beginning around July 11. These details are so few and so jumbled as to obscure the considerably larger extent of the intelligence community’s involvement against Trump.

The following considers additional facts (not in dispute) from the perspective of my eight years of experience with the CIA, NSA, FBI, etc. as a senior staff member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and as part of the group that drafted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (over my opposition).

The events of the past two years have confirmed the objections to FISA I stated in 1978: pre-clearance of wiretaps by a court that operates secretly, ex parte, and that is agnostic on national security matters, is an irresistible temptation to the party in power and its friends in the intelligence agencies to use the law to spy against their political opponents—that is, to do Watergate legally.

The Spying Legacy of 9/11
FISA was a bad idea, made worse after 9/11 by the addition of Section 702. It is a license to collect and use electronic data on Americans, so long as that collection is claimed to be “incidental” in the collection of data relating to foreigners. Since the claiming is done in secret, and the yearly court review can be finessed, officials’ self-restraint is all that keeps Section 702 itself from being an abuse. Item 17, “about queries,” specifically authorizes the collection of emails and phone calls of “U.S. persons.”

The first evidence that Obama Administration officials and their friends in the Community had used intelligence to try thwarting a political challenge came on November 17, 2016, when Donald Trump abruptly moved his transition headquarters from Trump Tower to Bedminster, New Jersey. The previous day, he had been visited by Admiral Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency. Rogers earlier had delivered the yearly Section 702 certification to the FISA court, saying that the Justice Department had improperly used that portion of the law to direct the NSA to listen in on Trump campaign headquarters. Just prior to Rogers’ delivery, John Carlin, head of the Justice Department’s national security division, tendered his resignation. Rogers was not happy. Trump even less so.

When the Section 702 abuse began is not public knowledge. We do know, however, that a FISA court in June 2016 rejected the Justice Department’s request for traditional FISA authority to monitor some members of the Trump campaign. Since ginning up such documents takes time, the process probably started in May or late April—roughly the time when Trump locked down the Republican nomination. Having failed to get explicit FISA authority, Justice Department officials may well have used the implicit authority of Section 702.

Who Employed Stefan Harper?
Something else unusual happened around that time: Trump associate Carter Page got an invite to an elite and cushy conference in Cambridge, England for Stef Halper. Turns out, Halper was acting on behalf of U.S. Intelligence. According to then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Halper was not “spying”—just gathering information. Page and Halper met at the conference on July 11, a conference for which Page was paid a sizable honorarium for attending.

The commentariat has been atwitter (please excuse the term) about how this squares with the fact that the FBI’s formal “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation (revealed to the New York Times as part of the advance spin on the much-anticipated Justice Department inspector general’s report) began only on July 31. Did the FBI jump the gun? Not by a few days but when the invitation was sent months earlier? Was this another “malum prohibitum” on its part?

Most probably not. At most, searches of FBI documents may turn up information showing that this was, most likely, a CIA operation.

First, dispatching informants outside of formal investigations is not part of FBI’s culture. Sending informants through old-boy networks is the essence of CIA’s culture. Stef Halper is a Boomer generation old boy, having married into the Agency family and lived directly and indirectly from his connections with it. To anyone familiar with CIA’s sponsorship of cultural-academic activities in the postwar period, thereafter transmuted into a long (secret) and pricey list of contracts with personages and institutions in this field, the very name of Cambridge’s Center for Research in the Arts Social Sciences and Humanities shouts CIA!

Most likely, Halper and perhaps others were vectored, authoritatively but semi-formally, by then-CIA director John Brennan. It could hardly have been done except by his authority. Did Brennan’s friend Barack Obama know?  Neither that authorization nor that knowledge would break any laws.

But, boy, oh boy, how many bright red lines likely have been crossed!

How the Intelligence Community Became Corrupted
Recall that in 1947 the main objection to establishing the CIA was the widespread fear that, someday, its espionage would be used against Americans. That is why CIA was given no powers of arrest, why its agents would operate only abroad, and only against foreign targets. But from the very first, CIA officials, from the top down, have thought of themselves as entitled to transcend the role of lookouts for the ship of state. They have identified with and built relationships with policymakers, and placed their hands on the wheel as best they could.

The FBI used to be very different. CIA people looked down on the bureau’s “cop mentality.” But, gradually, the top levels of FBI started thinking of themselves as do those up the river: as partners with policymakers, fellow policymakers.

Just as important, a large part of these agencies—certainly the most personally successful one—absorbed and was absorbed by the ethos of the ruling class, the chief item of which is a sense of rightful superiority over the rest of Americans. The sense of entitlement to power, of the right and duty to do whatever it takes to defend it against bad people whom despicable Americans might elect or have elected, followed naturally.

Now the alternatives are all too clear: either those who have taken America across these red lines are punished severely, and with bipartisan approval—in which case we may return to a politically neutral national security establishment. If they are not, the national security apparatus is sure to become the queen in the nation’s political chessboard.

It would not be the first time in history in which government power started flowing from whoever controlled the security forces. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, too.

Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images

Angelo M. Codevilla is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University and the author of To Make And Keep Peace(Hoover Institution Press, 2014).

Also see:

Former Obama Aide Ben Rhodes now a person of interest in unmasking investigation

FILE – In this Feb. 16, 2016 file photo Deputy National Security Adviser For Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

Circa, by Sara A. Carter, August 1, 2017:

Former Obama White House National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes is now an emerging as a person of interest in the House Intelligence Committee’s unmasking investigation, according to a letter sent Tuesday by the committee to the National Security Agency (NSA). This adds Rhodes to the growing list of top Obama government officials who may have improperly unmasked Americans in communications intercepted overseas by the NSA, Circa has confirmed.

The House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-CA, sent the letter to the National Security Agency requesting the number of unmaskings made by Rhodes from Jan. 1, 2016 to Jan. 20, 2017, according to congressional sources who spoke with Circa. Rhodes, who worked closely with former National Security Adviser Susan Rice and was a former deputy national security adviser for strategic communications for President Obama, became a focus of the committee during its review of classified information to assess whether laws were broken regarding NSA intercepted communications of President Trump, members of his administration and other Americans before and after the election, according to congressional officials. The committee is requesting that the NSA deliver the information on Rhodes by August, 21.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, Rice and former CIA Director John Brennan have all been named in the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the unmasking of Americans. A letter sent last week from Nunes to Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, suggested that top Obama aides made hundreds of unmasking requests during the 2016 presidential elections. The story, which was first reported by The Hill last week, stated that the requests were made without specific justifications as to why the unmasking was necessary. Rice and Brennan have confirmed they sought the unredacted names of Americans in NSA-sourced intelligence reports but insisted their requests were routine parts of their work and had no nefarious intentions. Power also has legal authority to unmask officials, though the practice has not reportedly been common for someone in her position. Rhodes also had legal authority to unmask Americans in NSA-source intelligence reports. But intelligence and congressional sources question the extent of the unmasking.

Nunes told Coats in a letter last week that the committee has “found evidence that current and former government officials had easy access to U.S. person information and that it is possible that they used this information to achieve partisan political purposes, including the selective, anonymous leaking of such information.”

Multiple federal law enforcement and intelligence officials told Circa, that requesting an unmasking for intelligence and analytical purposes is something that is done only when the information is absolutely necessary to analyze a specific threat or for other national security purposes. An intelligence source, with direct knowledge of the type of requests made by the Obama aides, said “it’s like hell and high water to fill out and gain approval for these types of unmaskings. It’s something analysts take seriously and could entail filling out 80 pages of paperwork to prove there is a need to unmask. If top officials were unmasking without oversight it’s something everyone should be concerned about and it puts our intelligence community in a very bad place.”

Retired House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra, (R-MI) and nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, who was a supporter of the NSA programs, said he is “deeply concerned” that there may have been an abuse of power regarding the warrantless spying programs, saying “there needs to be a full investigation into who was being unmasked and why. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if there isn’t enough votes to reauthorize the program, unless this situation can be resolved.”

Hoekstra noted how unusual it was for senior officials to request hundreds of unmaskings of Americans and “the apparent lack of explanation for why such unmaskings were necessary.”

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is set to expire at the end of the year and the most significant part of the act is Section 702, which allows a secret federal court to approve – under specified conditions – the collection of communications on foreign persons overseas at the request of the intelligence community. The unmasking of American’s occurs when an American is communicating with a person overseas and they are incidentally swept up in the communications.

“It appears Section 702 became a backdoor for unmasking Americans without cause and if that is the case then a full investigation is not only needed but warranted,” said another intelligence official, with direct knowledge of the program. “It would be a gross violation of Constitutional rights.”

Last week, CNN reported Rhodes met with the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss the Russia probe. The panel did not respond to comment seeking confirmation of the meeting.

Rice and Brennan have confirmed they sought the unredacted names of Americans in NSA-sourced intelligence reports but insisted their requests were routine parts of their work and had no nefarious intentions. Power, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations also has legal authority to unmask officials, though the practice has not reportedly been common for someone in her position. Rhodes, who served as deputy national security adviser, also had legal authority to unmask Americans in NSA-source intelligence reports. But intelligence and congressional sources question the extent of the unmasking.

The number of Americans’ identities who have been unmasked appears to have increased beginning last July around the same time Trump secured the GOP nomination. The number accelerated after Trump’s election in November launched a transition that continued through January, as reported by Circa.

U.S. officials and lawmakers have raised concern that the gathering of such intelligence was used for political espionage, Circa has learned.

According to U.S. officials who spoke to Circa on condition of anonymity, the intelligence reports included some intercepts of Americans talking to foreigners and many more involving foreign leaders talking about the future president, his campaign associates or his transition. They noted that most of the intercepts had little to do with the Russian election interference scandal and some appeared to have nothing to do with national security.

During his last year in office the Obama administration significantly expanded efforts to search National Security Agency intercepts for information about Americans, distributing thousands of intelligence reports across government with the unredacted names of U.S. residents during the midst of a divisive 2016 presidential election. The data was made available by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and reported by Circa in May. It provided evidence of how information accidentally collected by the NSA overseas about Americans was subsequently searched and disseminated after the Obama administration loosened privacy protections asked for by the intelligence community to make such sharing easier in 2011.

According to the documents reviewed by Circa, government officials conducted 30,355 searches in 2016 seeking information about Americans in NSA intercept meta-data, which include telephone numbers and email addresses. The activity was a 27.5 percent increase over the prior year and more than triple the 9,500 such searches that occurred in 2013, the first year such data was kept. In 2016 the administration also scoured the actual contents of NSA intercepted calls and emails for 5,288 Americans, an increase of 13 percent over the prior year and a massive spike from the 198 names searched in 2013, according to the data.

Related Links

Russia unmasking probes expand to Obama aide Samantha Power

How John Brennan’s CIA became a big consumer of unmasked intelligence on Americans

White House logs indicate Susan Rice consumed unmasked intel on Trump Associates

Obama’s intel agency secretly conducted illegal searches on American’s for years 

***

Kredo: Congress Moving Towards Subpoenas for Former Obama Officials Over Anti-Trump Leaks

Obama used NSA & FBI to spy on Trump – veteran CIA officer Gary Berntsen

RT – SophieCo, March 17, 2017: (go to RT for video)

The mighty CIA has fallen victim to a major breach, with WikiLeaks revealing the true scope of the Agency’s ability for cyber-espionage. Its tools seem to be aimed at ordinary citizens – your phone, your car, your TV, even your fridge can become an instrument of surveillance in the hands of the CIA. How does the CIA use these tools, and why do they need them in the first place? And as WikiLeaks promises even more revelations, how is all of this going to shape the already tense relationship between new president and the intelligence community? A man who has spent over two decades in the CIA’s clandestine service – Gary Berntsen is on SophieCo.

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Sophie Shevardnadze: Gary Berntsen, former CIA official, welcome to the show, great to have you with us. Now, Vault 7, a major batch of CIA docs revealed by Wikileaks uncovers the agency’s cyber tools. We’re talking about world’s most powerful intelligence agency – how exactly did the CIA lose control of its arsenal of hacking weapons?

Gary Berntsen: First off, I’d like to say that the world has changed a lot in the last several decades, and people are communicating in many different ways and intelligence services, whether they be American or Russian, are covering these communications and their coverage of those communications has evolved. Without commenting on the specific validity of those tools, it was clear that the CIA was surely using contractors to be involved in this process, not just staff officers, and that individuals decided that they had problems with U.S. policy, and have leaked these things to Wikileaks. This is a large problem, for the U.S. community, but just as the U.S. is having problems, the Russia face similar problems. Just this week you had multiple members of the FSB charged with hacking as well, and they have been charged by the U.S. government. So both services who are competitors, face challenges as we’ve entered a new era of mass communications.

SS: So like you’re saying, the leaker or leakers of the CIA docs is presumably a CIA contractor – should the agency be spending more effort on vetting its own officers? Is the process rigorous enough?

GB: Clearly. Look… There have been individuals since the dawn of history. Espionage is the second oldest occupation, have conducted spying and espionage operations, and there have been people who have turned against their own side and worked for competitors and worked for those opposing the country or the group that they’re working with. It’s been a problem from the beginning, and it continues to be a problem, and the U.S. clearly is going to have to do a much better job at vetting those individuals who are given security clearances, without a doubt.

SS: The CIA studied the flaws in the software of devices like iPhones, Androids, Smart TVs, apps like Whatsapp that left them exposed to hacking, but didn’t care about patching those up –  so, in essence the agency chose to leave Americans vulnerable to cyberattacks, rather than protect them?

GB: I think you have to understand, in this world that we’re operating and the number one target of our intelligence community are terrorists. Since the attacks of 9\11, 16 years ago, the obsession of the American intelligence community is to identify those planning terrorist attacks, collecting information on them and being able to defeat them. These individuals are using all these means of communication. I have spoken with many security services around the world, since my retirement back in 2005-2006, a lot of them have had problems covering the communications of somebody’s very devices and programs that you’ve talked about – whether they be narcotraffickers or salafist jihadists, they are all piggybacking off of commercial communications. Therefore the need for modern intelligence services to sort of provide coverage of all means of communications. And there’s a price that you pay for that.

SS: One of the most disturbing parts of the leaks is the “Weeping Angel” program – CIA hacking into Samsung Smart TVs to record what’s going on even when the TV appears to be turned off. Why are the CIA’s tools designed to penetrate devices used by ordinary Western citizens at home?

GB: Look, I wouldn’t say it has anything to do with Western homes, because the CIA doesn’t do technical operations against American citizens – that’s prohibited by the law. If the CIA does anything in the U.S., it does it side-by-side with the FBI, and it does it according to FISA – the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act laws. It’s gotta go to the judge to do those things. Those tools are used primarily against the individuals and terrorists that are targeting the U.S. or other foreign entities that we see as a significant threat to the U.S. national security, which is the normal functioning of any intelligence service.

SS: Just like you say, the CIA insists it never uses its investigative tools on American citizens in the US, but, we’re wondering, exactly how many terrorist camps in the Middle East have Samsung Smart TVs to watch their favorite shows on? Does it seem like the CIA lost its direction?

GB: Plenty of them.

SS: Plenty?…

GB: I’ve travelled in the Middle East, Samsungs are sold everywhere. Sophie, Samsung TVs are sold all over the world. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Middle East, I’ve seen them in Afghanistan, I’ve seen them everywhere. So, any kind of devices that you can imagine, people are using everywhere. We’re in a global economy now.

SS: The CIA has tools to hack iPhones – but they make up only around 15 % of the world’s smartphone market. IPhones are not popular among terrorists, but they are among business and political elites – so are they the real target here?

GB: No. The CIA in relative terms to the size of the world is a small organisation. It is an organisation that has roughly 20 or more thousand people – it’s not that large in terms of covering a planet with 7 billion people. We have significant threats to the U.S. and to the Western world. We live in an age of super-terrorism, we live in an age when individuals, small groups of people, can leverage technology at a lethal effect. The greatest threats to this planet are not just nuclear, they are bio. The U.S. needs to have as many tools as possible to defend itself against these threats, as does Russia want to have similar types of tools to defend itself. You too, Russian people have suffered from a number of terrible terrorist acts.

SS: Wikileaks suggest the CIA copied the hacking habits of other nations to create a fake electronic trace – why would the CIA need that?

GB: The CIA, as any intelligence service, would look to conduct coverage in the most unobtrusive fashion as possible. It is going to do its operations so that they can collect and collect again and again against terrorist organisations, where and whenever it can, because sometimes threats are not just static, they are continuous.

SS: You know this better, so enlighten me: does the he CIA have the authorisation to create the surveillance tools it had in the first place? Who gives it such authorisation?

GB: The CIA was created in 1947 by the National Security Act of the U.S. and does two different things – it does FI (foreign intelligence) collection and it does CA – covert action. Its rules for collection of intelligence were enshrined in the law that created it, the CIA Act 110, in 1949, but the covert action part of this, where it does active measures, when it gets involved in things – all of those are covered by law. The Presidential finding had to be written, it had to be presented to the President. The President’s signs off on those things. Those things are then briefed to members of Congress, or the House Permanent Subcommittee for Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee for Intelligence. We have a very rigorous process of review of the activities of our intelligence communities in the U.S.

SS: But you’re talking about the activities in terms of operations. I’m just asking – does CIA need any authorisation or permission to create the tools it has in its arsenal? Or it can just go ahead…

GB: Those tools         and the creation of collection tools falls under the same laws that allowed the CIA to be established. And that was the 1949 Intelligence Act. And also, subsequently, the laws in 1975. Yes.

SS: So, the CIA programme names are quite colourful, sometimes wacky –  “Weeping Angel”, “Swamp Monkey”, “Brutal Kangaroo” – is there a point to these, is there any logic, or are they completely random? I always wondered…

GB: There’s absolutely no point to that, and it’s random.

SS:Okay, so how do you come up with those names? Who… like, one says: “Monkey” and another one says: “Kangaroo”?…

GB: I’m sure they are computer-generated.

SS: Trump accused Obama of wiretapping him during the campaign… Could the CIA have actually spied on the president? It seems like the agency doesn’t have the best relationship with Donald Trump – how far can they go?

GB: Let me just say this: the President used the word “wiretapping” but I think it was very clear to us that have been in the intelligence business, that this was a synonym for “surveillance”. Because most people are on cellphones, people aren’t using landlines anymore, so there’s no “wiretapping”, okay. These all fall under the Intelligence Surveillance Act, as I stated earlier, this thing existing in the U.S.. It was clear to President Trump and to those in his campaign, after they were elected, and they did a review back that the Obama Administration sought FISA authorisation to do surveillance of the Trump campaign in July and then in October. They were denied in July, they were given approval in October, and in October they did some types of surveillance of the Trump campaign. This is why the President, of course, tweeted, that he had been “wiretapped” – of course “wiretapping” being a synonym for the surveillance against his campaign, which was never heard of in the U.S. political history that I can remember, I can’t recall any way of this being done. It’s an outrage, and at the same time, Congressional hearings are going to be held and they are going to review all of these things, and they are going to find out exactly what happened and what was done. It’s unclear right now, but all we do know – and it has been broken in the media that there were two efforts, and at the second one, the authorisation was given. That would never have been done by the CIA, because they don’t do that sort of coverage in the U.S.. That would either be the FBI or the NSA, with legal authorities and those authorities… the problem that the Trump administration had is they believed that the information from these things was distributed incorrectly. Any time an American –  and this is according to the U.S. law – any time an American is on the wire in the U.S., their names got to be minimized from this and it clearly wasn’t done and the Trump administration was put in a bad light because of this.

SS: If what you’re saying is true, how does that fall under foreign intelligence? Is that more of the FBI-NSA expertise?

GB: It was FBI and NSA – it was clearly the FBI and the NSA that were involved, it would never have been the CIA doing that, they don’t listen to telephones in the U.S., they read the product of other agencies that would provide those things, but clearly, there were individuals on those phone calls that they believed were foreign and were targeting those with potential communications with the Trump campaign. Let’s be clear here – General Clapper, the DNI for President Obama, stated before he left office, that there was no, I repeat, no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. This has been something that has been dragged out again, and again, and again, by the media. This is a continuing drumbeat of the mainstream, left-wing media of the U.S., topaint the President in the poorest light, to attempt to discredit Donald Trump.

SS: With the intelligence agencies bringing down Trump’s advisors like Michael Flynn – and you said the people behind that were Obama’s loyalists – can we talk about the intelligence agencies being too independent from the White House, playing their own politics?

GB: I think part of the problem that we’ve seen during the handover of power from President Obama to President Trump was that there was a number of holdovers that went from political appointee to career status that had been placed in the NatSec apparatus and certain parts of the intelligence organisations. It is clear that President Trump and his team are determined to remove those people to make sure that there’s a continuity of purpose and people aren’t leaking information that would put the Administration into a negative light. That’s the goal of the administration, to conduct itself consistent with the goals of securing the country from terrorism and other potential threats – whether they be counter-narcotics, or intelligence agencies trying to breach our… you know, the information that we hold secure.

SS: Here’s a bit of conspiracy theories – could it be that the domestic surveillance agencies like the NSA or the FBI orchestrated the Vault 7 leaks  – to damage CIA, stop it from infringing on their turf?

GB :I really don’t think so and that is conspiracy  thinking. You have to understand something, in the intelligence communities in the U.S., whether it be the CIA and FBI, we’ve done a lot of cross-fertilizations. When I was in senior position in CIA’s counterterrorism center, I had a deputy who was an FBI officer. An office in FBI HQ down in Washington had an FBI lead with a CIA deputy. There’s a lot more cooperation than one would think. There are individuals that do assignments in each other’s organisations to help foster levels of cooperation. I had members of NSA in my staff when I was at CIA, members of diplomatic security, members of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and it was run like a task force, so, there’s a lot more cooperation than the media presents, they always think that there are these huge major battles between the organisations and that’s rarely true.

SS: Generally speaking – is there rivalry between American intel agencies at all? Competition for resources, maybe?

GB: I think, sometimes, between the Bureau and the CIA – the CIA is the dominant agency abroad, and the FBI is the dominant agency in the U.S. What they do abroad, they frequently have to get cleared by us, what we do domestically, we have to get cleared by them, and sometimes there’s some friction, but usually, we’re able to work this out. It makes for great news, the CIA fighting FBI, but the reality is that there’s a lot more cooperation than confrontation. We are all in the business of trying to secure the American homeland and American interests globally.

SS: I’m still thinking a lot about the whole point of having this hacking arsenal for the CIA since you talk on their behalf – the possibility to hack phones, computers, TVs and cars – if the actual terrorist attacks on US soil, like San Bernardino, Orlando are still missed?

GB: Look. There are hundreds of individuals, if not thousands, planning efforts against the U.S. at any  time. It can be many-many things. And the U.S. security services, there’s the CIA, the FBI, NSA – block many-many of these things, but it is impossible to stop them all. Remember, this is an open society here, in America, with 320 million people, here. We try to foster open economic system, we allow more immigration to America than all countries in the world combined. This is a great political experiment here, but it’s also very difficult to police. There are times that the U.S. security services are going to fail. It’s inevitable. We just have to try the best we can, do the best job that we can, while protecting the values that attract so many people to the U.S.

SS:The former CIA director John Brennan is saying Trump’s order to temporarily ban travel from some Muslim states is not going to help fight terrorism in ‘any significant way’. And the countries where the terrorists have previously come from – like Saudi Arabia, or Afghanistan, it’s true – aren’t on the list. So does he maybe have a point?

GB: John Brennan is acting more like a political operative than a former director of CIA. The countries that Mr. Trump had banned initially, or at least had put a partial, sort of a delay – where states like Somalia, Libya, the Sudan, Iran – places where we couldn’t trust local vetting. Remember something, when someone immigrates to the U.S., we have what’s called an “immigration packet”: they may have to get a chest X-ray to make sure they don’t bring any diseases with them, they have to have background check on any place they’ve ever lived, and in most of these places there are no security forces to do background checks on people that came from Damascus, because parts of Damascus are totally destroyed – there’s been warfare. It is actually a very reasonable thing for President Trump to ask for delay in these areas. Look, the Crown-Prince, the Deputy Crown-Prince of Saudi Arabia was just in the United States and met with Donald Trump, and he said he didn’t believe it was a “ban on Muslims”. This was not a “ban on Muslims”, it was an effort to slow down and to create more opportunity to vet those individuals coming from states where there’s a preponderance of terrorist organisations operating. A reasonable step by President Trump, something he promised during the campaign, something he’s fulfilling. But again, I repeat – America allows more immigration into the U.S., than all countries combined. So, we really don’t need to be lectured on who we let in and who we don’t let in.

SS: But I still wonder if the Crown-Prince would’ve had the same comment had Saudi Arabia been on that ban list. Anyways, Michael Hayden, ex-CIA…

GB: Wait a second, Sophie – the Saudis have a reasonable form to police their society, and they provide accurate police checks. If they didn’t create accurate police checks, we would’ve given the delay to them as well.

SS: Ok, I got your point. Now, Michael Hayden, ex-CIA and NSA chief, pointed out that the US intelligence enlists agents in the Muslim world with the promise of eventual emigration to America – is Trump’s travel ban order going to hurt American intelligence gathering efforts in the Middle East?

GB: No, the question here – there were individuals that worked as translators for us in Afghanistan and Iraq and serving in such roles as translators, they were promised the ability to immigrate to the United States. Unfortunately, some of them were blocked in the first ban that was put down, because individuals who wrote that, didn’t consider that. That has been considered in the re-write, that the Trump administration had submitted, which is now being attacked by a judge in Hawaii, and so it was taken into consideration, but… the objective here was to help those that helped U.S. forces on the ground, especially those who were translators, in ground combat operations, where they risked their lives alongside American soldiers.

SS:You worked in Afghanistan – you were close to capturing Bin Laden back in 2001 – what kind of spying tools are actually used on the ground by the CIA to catch terrorists?

GB: The CIA as does any intelligence service in the world, is a human business. It’s a business where we work with local security forces to strengthen their police and intelligence forces, we attempt to leverage them, we have our own people on the ground that speak the language, we’re trying to help build transportation there. There’s no “secret sauce” here. There’s no super-technology that changes the country’s ability to conduct intelligence collections or operations. In Afghanistan the greatest thing that the U.S. has is broad support and assistance to Afghan men and women across the country. We liberated half of the population, and for women were providing education, and when the people see what we were doing: trying to build schools, providing USAID projects – all of these things – this makes the population willing to work with and support the United States. Frequently, members of the insurgence groups will see this and sometimes they do actually cross the lines and cooperate with us. So, it’s a full range of American political power, whether it’s hard or soft, that is the strength of the American intelligence services – because  people in the world actually believe – and correctly so – that American more than generally a force of good in the world.

SS: Gary, thank you so much for this interesting interview and insight into the world of the CIA. We’ve been talking to Gary Berntsen, former top CIA officer, veteran of the agency, talking about the politics of American intelligence in the Trump era. That’s it for this edition of SophieCo, I will see you next time.

***

While searching for the RT video on YouTube I found this recent interview with Gary Berntsen by Newsfirst Sri Lanka:

5 Points About New National Security Adviser Gen. McMaster

U.S. President Trump with NCA-appointee General H.R. McMaster (left) and US Ambassador to Israel-appointee David Friedman (R) (Photo: © NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President Trump with NCA-appointee General H.R. McMaster (left) and US Ambassador to Israel-appointee David Friedman (R) (Photo: © NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, Feb. 21, 2017:

President Trump has chosen General H.R. McMaster as the national security adviser and there’s plenty to be happy about. Below are five points to consider with his choice.

1. General McMaster is known for winning the most difficult of battles. As explained in this lengthy New Yorker article from 2006, he performed an amazing turnaround in the city of Tal Afar in Iraq. I remember when he arrived in 2005 and shocked observers by needing only about six months to change the situation by building strong relationships with Iraqis on the ground to kick the jihadists out and to quickly build up the local police force.

His warrior side will come in handy as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan bluntly refers to the situation as a “stalemate” requiring several thousand more troops for progress to happen.

2.He will never forget how Iran killed our servicemen and women in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.  McMaster blasted the media for repeatedly referring to “alleged” Iranian support for militias and targets, saying it was “damn obvious to anybody who wants to look into it” that Iran’s proxy warfare against our troops was confirmed. He will never forget or forgive the Iranian regime for harming his brothers and sisters in the U.S. military.

3. He criticizes the ““almost narcissistic” U.S. expectations in Iraq and Afghanistan that don’t take into account the limitations of our abilities to shape those situations. Authorities on counter-insurgency like McMaster, Mattis and Petraeus are often criticized of pursing idealistic nation-building, but McMaster’s words reflect a realism about what can and cannot be achieved.

4. He wrote an acclaimed book about the Vietnam War, Deriliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Lies That Led to Vietnam. The title alone shows he is cynical towards the senior political class. If you are skeptical about President Trump, you can rest assured that McMaster will not be a puppet.

5. Jihad Watch just broke the story that McMaster said the “Islamic State is not Islamic” in a 2014 lecture. Comments like that by the Obama Administration were rightly criticized and so must his.

However, we should be fair to McMaster. Did he say it because he doesn’t believe we should focus on the radical Islamic ideology or, more optimistically, he does understand the ideology and was using the line to try to undermine ISIS’ legitimacy?

The record of McMaster points towards the former, as does the records of those he will be serving with. Defense Secretary General Mattis, for example, explicitly identifies political Islam as the enemy ideology that a strategy must be crafted around.

***

Jim Hanson defends H. R. McMaster’s counter-insurgency strategy (COIN) which is based on taking into account the political sensitivities on the ground in order to recruit Muslim allies:

 

Surprise: At the End, Obama Administration Gave NSA Broad New Powers

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

PJ MEDIA, BY MICHAEL WALSH, FEBRUARY 15, 2017

This story, from the Jan. 12, 2017, edition of the New York Times, was little-remarked upon at the time, but suddenly has taken on far greater significance in light of current events:

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. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people.

One of the central questions behind the Mike Flynn flap that should have been asked but largely wasn’t is: who was wiretapping the general? The answer, we know now, was the National Security Agency, formerly known as No Such Agency, the nation’s foremost signals-intelligence (SIGINT) collection department.

Once compartmentalized to avoid injuring private citizens caught up in the net of the Black Widow (as we all are already) and her technological successors, the NSA was suddenly handed greater latitude in what it could share with other, perhaps more politicized bodies of the intelligence community. Why?

Let’s call the roster of the bad guys:

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch signed the new rules, permitting the N.S.A. to disseminate “raw signals intelligence information,” on Jan. 3, after the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., signed them on Dec. 15, according to a 23-page, largely declassified copy of the procedures.

Previously, the N.S.A. filtered information before sharing intercepted communications with another agency, like the C.I.A. or the intelligence branches of the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The N.S.A.’s analysts passed on only information they deemed pertinent, screening out the identities of innocent people and irrelevant personal information.

Now, other intelligence agencies will be able to search directly through raw repositories of communications intercepted by the N.S.A. and then apply such rules for “minimizing” privacy intrusions.

“This is not expanding the substantive ability of law enforcement to get access to signals intelligence,” said Robert S. Litt, the general counsel to Mr. Clapper. “It is simply widening the aperture for a larger number of analysts, who will be bound by the existing rules.”

Throwing the BS flag on this one. “Widening the aperture,” my old granny. One of the things about the IC is that “existing rules” are made to be broken whenever one of its unaccountable minions feels like it; these are people who lie and cheat for a living. And the genius of the Democrats — something for the GOP to think about next time — is that they were able to leverage the transition in order to change as many rules and embed as many apparatchiks as possible before formally turning over the reins to the new kids.

But Patrick Toomey, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the move an erosion of rules intended to protect the privacy of Americans when their messages are caught by the N.S.A.’s powerful global collection methods. He noted that domestic internet data was often routed or stored abroad, where it may get vacuumed up without court oversight.

“Rather than dramatically expanding government access to so much personal data, we need much stronger rules to protect the privacy of Americans,” Mr. Toomey said. “Seventeen different government agencies shouldn’t be rooting through Americans’ emails with family members, friends and colleagues, all without ever obtaining a warrant.”

Correct. But the Fourth Amendment went out the barn door along with all the pretty horses long ago. Google and Facebook and Amazon know more about you than the CIA or FBI ever used to. And most of the personal information is provided by… you. Think about that, the next time you “check in,” post pictures of your loved ones and talk about your travel plans.

Following me on Twitter @dkahanerules

Islamic State Adapting & Improving Its Escape/Evasion Tactics/Tradecraft

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Image source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/new-tricks-make-isis-once-easily-tracked-a-sophisticated-opponent-1473613106

Fortuna’s Corner, by R. C. Porter, Sept. 12, 2016:

Sam Schechner and Benoit Faucon had a September 11, 2016 article in the Wall Street Journal with an all too familiar theme — that the adversary is evading our attempts to surveil them — by adapting and enhancing their escape and evasion tradecraft.  Our lack of critical human intelligence (HUMINT) can be blamed on a clever adversary who has learned from their past mistakes, our inability to deeply penetrate their inner sanctum, and self-inflicted/unforced errors like closing Guantanamo Bay Prison without identifying a viable alternative.

     Getting a reliable, and highly successful human spy ensconced deep within the adversary’s lair has always been one of the most difficult intelligence collection challenges since time immemorial.  Napoleon Bonaparte once said that “one well placed spy was worth two battalions.”  Now, one well-placed spy could be worth an entire city.

     Our success in the targeted killing of the ISIS leadership no doubt sowed a heavy dose of mistrust and paranoia within the group’s ranks; and, ultimately forced those remaining to change and adapt their techniques, tactics, and procedures (TTPs) with respect to  how they communicate, plan operations, and travel — both locally and abroad.  The adversary gets a vote; and, it is to be expected that ISIS would adapt, change, and enhance its operational security (OPSEC) — especially as the targeted killing campaign eliminated their top leadership.  But, leaks by Edward Snowden, which revealed sensitive and highly lucrative NSA sources and methods, seemed to instill ISIS with a renewed sense of OPSEC, resulting in their use of enhanced encryption software, and other techniques to avoid our attempts to surveil them.

      As Mr. Schechner and Mr. Faucon note, “the extremists group’s communications, once commonly conducted on phones and social media accounts easily tracked by authorities [and intelligence agencies], have evolved into a mix of encrypted chat-app messages over What‘sApp and Telegram, face-to-face meetings, written notes, stretches of silence, and misdirection.”  The use of couriers, and disposable cell phones also remain a staple of their tradecraft.  The group’s move to enhanced encryption occurred within three months after the Edward Snowden leasks.  Additionally, as expressed on the group’s social media websites, ISIS members and followers were warned about Western surveillance techniques — as revealed by the Snowden leaks, and what to do to avoid them.

     The POTUS’s insistence on closing Guantanamo Bay Prison, means the United States lacks a dedicated interrogation facility where high-value targets can be taken and interrogated over a prolonged period of time.  As a result, the U.S. is forced to conduct tactical/limited interrogations overseas; and/or, depend on an ally or foreign partner to conduct these investigations — and never really being sure that such interrogations were adequate.  The next POTUS needs to reinstate Guantanamo as a dedicated interrogation facility, or settle on a useful alternative that does not unduly deprive our, and our intelligence agency partners of the opportunity to thoroughly question those who wish to kill as many Americans and Westerners as they can.

     As former CIA officer Philip Giraldi wrote in the July 23, 2014 edition of The American Conservative, “terrorists now know that using a cell phone is dangerous, that transferring money using commercial accounts can be detected [thus the increased use of Bitcoins], that moving around when a drone is overhead can be fatal [thus the increased use/employment of human shields — women/children, etc.]; and, that communicating by computer is likely to be intercepted or exposed unless it is encrypted.

     And, as Mr. Giraldi correctly observes, “technical intelligence has its limitations:  while it is excellent on picking up bits and pieces, and using sophisticated computers to work through the bulk collection of chatter, it is largely unable to learn the intentions of terrorist groups and leaders.  To do that,” he argues, “you need spies, ideally someone who is placed in the inner circle of an organization; and who is therefore — privy to decision-making.”

     But, the Intelligence Community has a very poor record when it comes to deeply penetrating a terrorist group with a well-placed human spy.  To be fair, these groups are typically close-knit, very suspicious of new-comers, and vet new members through family and tribal connections — thus making a successful HUMINT penetration challenging to say the least.

     At the end of the day, intelligence collection against a low-tech adversary, who learns our sources and methods from leaks such as Edward Snowden’s, and adapts their TTPas in clever and unexpected ways, makes them a ‘hard target’ for a reason.  All the more important that we avoid self-inflicted wounds like shuttering Guantanamo  Bay Prison — without a viable alternative — and, consider establishing a leading-edge, deep penetration center of excellence, designed to try new means and methods to collect against low-tech, hard to penetrate adversarial entities.  V/R, RCP

Also see: