If Trump loses in November the National Security State will get away with unconscionable misbehavior in the monitoring of campaign aide Carter Page. And if he wins…
By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News
Former FBI Director James Comey testified to Congress last Wednesday that he did not remember much about what was going on when the FBI deceived the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court into approving four warrants for surveillance of Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
Few outsiders are aware that those warrants covered not only Page but also anyone Page was in contact with as well as anyone Page’s contacts were in contact with — under the so-called two-hop surveillance procedure. In other words, the warrants extend coverage two hops from the target — that is, anyone Page talks to and anyone they, in turn, talk to.
At the hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsay Graham reviewed the facts (most of them confirmed by the Department of Justice inspector general) showing that none of the four FISA warrants were warranted.
Graham gave a chronological rundown of the evidence that Comey and his “folks” either knew, or should have known, that by signing fraudulent FISA warrant applications they were perpetrating a fraud on the court.
The “evidence” used by Comey and his “folks” to “justify” warrants included Page’s contacts with Russian officials (CIA had already told the FBI those contacts had been approved) and the phony as a three-dollar bill “Steele dossier” paid for by the Democrats.
Two Hops to the World
But let’s not hop over the implications of two-hop surveillance, which apparently remains in effect today. Few understand the significance of what is known in the trade as “two-hop” coverage. According to a former NSA technical director, Bill Binney, when President Barack Obama approved the current version of “two hops,” the NSA was ecstatic — and it is easy to see why.
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Let’s say Page was in touch with Donald Trump (as candidate or president); Trump’s communications could then be surveilled, as well. Or, let’s say Page was in touch with Google. That would enable NSA to cover pretty much the entire world. A thorough read of the transcript of Wednesday’s hearing, particularly the Q-and-A, shows that this crucial two-hop dimension never came up — or that those aware of it, were too afraid to mention it. It was as if Page were the only one being surveilled.
Here is a sample of The New York Times’s typical coverage of such a hearing:
“Senate Republicans sought on Wednesday to promote their efforts to rewrite the narrative of the Trump-Russia investigation before Election Day, using a hearing with the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey to cast doubt on the entire inquiry by highlighting problems with a narrower aspect of it.
“Led by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee spent hours burrowing into mistakes and omissions made by the F.B.I. when it applied for court permission to wiretap the former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in 2016 and 2017. Republicans drew on that flawed process to renew their claims that Mr. Comey and his agents had acted with political bias, ignoring an independent review that debunked the notion of a plot against President Trump.”
Flawed process? Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz pinpointed no few than 17 “serious performance failures” related to the four FISA warrant applications on Page. Left unsaid is the fact that Horowitz’s investigation was tightly circumscribed. Basically, he asked the major players “Were you biased?” And they said “No.”
Does the NYT believe we were all born yesterday? When the Horowitz report was released in early December 2019, Fox News’ Chris Wallace found those serious performance failures “pretty shocking.” He quoted an earlier remark by Rep. Will Hurd (R,TX) a CIA alumnus:
“Why is it when you have 17 mistakes — 17 things that are misrepresented or lapses — and every one of them goes against the president and for investigating him, you have to say, ‘Is that a coincidence’? … it is either gross incompetence or intentionality.”
Throughout the four-hour hearing on Wednesday, Comey was politely smug — a hair short of condescending.
There was not the slightest sign he thought he would ever be held accountable for what happened under his watch. You see, four years ago, Comey “knew” Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in; that explains how he, together with CIA Director John Brennan and National Intelligence Director James Clapper, felt free to take vast liberties with the Constitution and the law before the election, and then launched a determined effort to hide their tracks post election.
Trump had been forewarned. On Jan. 3, 2017, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), with an assist from Rachel Maddow, warned Trump not to get crosswise with the “intelligence community,” noting the IC has six ways to Sunday to get back at you.
Three days later, Comey told President-elect Trump, in a one-on-one conversation, what the FBI had on him — namely, the “Steele Dossier.” The media already had the dossier, but were reluctant (for a host of obvious reasons) to publish it. When it leaked that Comey had briefed Trump on it, they finally had the needed peg.
New Parvenu in Washington
After the tete-a-tete with Comey on Jan. 6, 2017, newcomer Trump didn’t know what hit him. Perhaps no one told him of Schumer’s warning; or maybe he dismissed it out of hand. Is that what Comey was up to on Jan. 6, 2017?
Was the former FBI director protesting too much in his June 2017 testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee when he insisted he’d tried to make it clear to Trump that briefing him on the unverified but scurrilous information in the dossier wasn’t intended to be threatening?
It took Trump several months to figure out what was being done to him.
Trump to NYT: ‘Leverage’ (aka Blackmail)
In a long Oval Office interview with the Times on July 19, 2017, Trump said he thought Comey was trying to hold the dossier over his head.
“…Look what they did to me with Russia, and it was totally phony stuff. … the dossier … Now, that was totally made-up stuff,” Trump said. “I went there [to Moscow] for one day for the Miss Universe contest, I turned around, I went back. It was so disgraceful. It was so disgraceful.
“When he [Comey] brought it [the dossier] to me, I said this is really made-up junk. I didn’t think about anything. I just thought about, man, this is such a phony deal. … I said, this is — honestly, it was so wrong, and they didn’t know I was just there for a very short period of time. It was so wrong, and I was with groups of people. It was so wrong that I really didn’t, I didn’t think about motive. I didn’t know what to think other than, this is really phony stuff.”
The Steele dossier, paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign and compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, includes a tale of Trump cavorting with prostitutes, who supposedly urinated on each other before the same bed the Obamas had slept in at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton hotel.
Trump told the Times: “I think [Comey] shared it so that … I would think he had it out there. … As leverage.”
Even with that lesson in hand, Trump still proved virtually powerless in dealing with the National Security State/intelligence community. The president has evidenced neither the skill nor the guts to even attempt to keep the National Security State in check.
Comey, no doubt doesn’t want to be seen as a “dirty cop,” With Trump in power and Attorney General William Barr his enforcer, there was always the latent threat that they would use the tools at their disposal to expose and even prosecute Comey and his National Security State colleagues for what the president now knows was done during his candidacy and presidency.
Despite their braggadocio about taking on the Deep State, and the continuing investigations, it seems doubtful that anything serious is likely to happen before Election Day, Nov. 3.
On Wednesday, Comey had the air of one who is equally sure, this time around, who will be the next president. No worries. Comey could afford to be politely vapid for five more weeks, and then be off the hook for any and all “serious performance failures” — some of them felonies.
Thus, a significant downside to a Biden victory is that the National Security State will escape accountability for unconscionable misbehavior, running from misdemeanors to insurrection. No small thing.
Sen. Graham concluded the hearing with a pious plea: “Somebody needs to be held accountable.” Yet, surely, he has been around long enough to know the odds.
Given his disastrous presidency, either way the prospects are bleak: no accountability for the National Security State, which is to be expected, or four more years of Trump.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was a CIA analyst, a Presidential briefer, and a specialist on Russia. He cofounded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
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This is almost ancient news. Page was a swamp denizen angling for a WH job. Everything about this chapter in our history is a mess on both sides. This article overlooks Trump’s recklessness despite his forewarnings. The same recklessness that has infected almost his entire staff 10 months after a pandemic struck that he ignored much as he ignored the intel community – and still does.
Was Comey a defender of the republic in this? Not at all, but neither were any of the players on either side. Clinton got her payback – she lost. Soon Trump will be getting his for not being mature enough to let it go. Aren’t we all eager to get adults back into the room?
Very disappointed in the author for this one-sided, biased article.
The FISA process with Carter was a disgrace. FISA itself is a disgrace in that it violates our supposed foundational principles of due process and an adversarial legal system.
Comey is a disgrace for throwing the election out of kilter with his two announcements regarding the Clinton investigation, both the initial insufficient evidence announcement and the reopening of the investigation announcement.
But none of that excuses the nonsense being spouted about the Steele Dossier, which could be straight from Trump’s and Moscow’s lips.
But it is simply disingenuous to treat the Steele Dossier as some vetted intelligence product when it was absolutely clear from the beginning that it did not even pretend to be vetted, and it’s political nature was in fact disclosed to the FISA court. That doesn’t excuse the other FISA errors, especially on the renewals of the warrant, but it is important for context. Further, the Steele Dossier, however, contained a lot of rumors that were subsequently confirmed to be true in part if not completely. And other claims of the Dossier have not been fully investigated so we don’t know if they are true. This is not rocket science — Wikipedia has a good page going through the allegations and what the investigation proved, including the fact that Carter Page LIED about meeting with a Rosneft officials and was offered a stake in the company.
Is Mr. McGovern pretending that Trump and his staff did not repeatedly lie about their contacts with Russia? Why did they lie? Is he pretending there wasn’t a Trump Tower meeting to get dirt on Hillary? Is he pretending that there were no ongoing attempt to get Russian approval of Trump Tower Moscow during the election at exactly the same time Trump was claiming he had no business interests of any kind whatsoever in Russia?
Does the abuse of the FISA process excuse Trump’s lies, and his campaign staff’s lies about their contacts with Russia? Do not those lies present a risk to US interests?
I have much respect for McGovern and what he has done in the past, but this article is so one-sided that it damages his credibility. The most damaging evidence of bias is the stark emphasis on the golden showers report in the Dossier. That was one allegation of many. Discuss the rest of the allegations, Mr. McGovern, including the allegations that were confirmed.
How many times has a FISA judge denied one of these requests? And what about the wholesale information gathering on all of us without FISA approval or anything else that Edward Snowden exposed but has been instrumental in no changes at all except Mr. Snowden’s permanent residence? The FBI needs to do so little to get what it wants that using a ‘discredited dossier’ to actually get approval from that rubber-stamping so-called ‘Court’ that this is probably one of its more notable efforts, undertaken only because of the people involved.
If this flames out, as expected, it will have something to do with the bi-partisan desire to not have any light at all shone on this proto-totalitarian institution. And, even when they express outrage with each other, both parties adhere to a common agenda in ways that are really impressive. Four examples: the entire impeachment and trial process, with no one in either party mentioning the fact of the US sponsored coup in Ukraine that was at the heart of the whole affair; the all-encompassing standing ovation given US intelligence tool Juan Guaido at one of Trump’s SOTUs; the utter silence of the Democrats regarding the coup in Bolivia; the subverting of the government in Ecuador to protect an oil company and kidnap Julian Assange through illegal and corrupt means. All of these outrages began with Obama or earlier, and have continued under Trump. Trump’s beef with the real ‘deep state’, as opposed to employees of the government doing their jobs in the EPA, the Forest Service, etc., is that they had the gall to investigate him. Its only real beef with him is that he was the first Presidential candidate who got anywhere, much less elected, who pointed out its existence. This is personal, for a person and a set of institutions that all believe, correctly, that they are above the law. We need vast institutional change. It will not occur regardless of who is declared the ‘winner’ of this election.
There are, of course, issues that are existentially more important and impactful than RussiaGate but there is nothing in my 72 years on this planet that has been more absurd and moronic. You Dem Party Libs and pathetic hacks who willfully fell for that transparently ridiculous evidence-free hoax (and continue to push it to this day) deserve our utmost contempt. You have lost all credibility save within the tiny yet (unfortunately) powerful bubble you reside. You have caused more damage than any of you, because of your overpowering conceit and cognitive dissonance, are capable of comprehending. Shame on all of you and may you rot in the monster-sized pile of feces you dumped on us.
I expect that the Democrats will take the legislature and Donnie Murdo to remain CEO and head dogcatcher. Then you’ll really see the imperial presidency as Donnie Murdo tries to rule by imperial decree. We’ll see.
American voters actually want the FBI to get away with it. They hate themselves, have no self-respect, and certainly have a desire to punish everyone around them for the sin of electing Donald Trump. American voters will, I’m sure, live to wonder how America dissolved….. but these people will be in the minority. I predict that the disintegration of our Constitutional system will be repeatedly blamed on a former republican president, as they proceed to destroy our system through their intentional actions. Someday this country will be a full-blown communist dictatorship, and it all was because voters in America fell so deep into the cult of personality that they disregarded any care for justice, law, and order.
Actually Dee Cee – Some communism wouldn’t be amiss in this grotesquely plutocratic, corporate-capitalist-imperialist state. It wasn’t the USSR that kept visiting napalm, white phosphorus, Agent Orange and, you know, gazillions of tons of regular ole TNT on the North Koreans, the Vietnamese, the Cambodians, Laotians, then the Serbians, Libyans, Iraqis, Afghanis……….wasn’t the commies who kept meddling in other countries’ elections, overthrowing (or assisting in such) them to replace them with brutal, murderous dictators…..Wasn’t the commies and isn’t the Russians or Chinese (or Iranians) who have hundreds of military bases around the world, who foment color revolutions, who steal other peoples’ oil reserves – who have used Nuclear weapons against other humans.
Only the USA has done these things – and it matters not at all what color face of the Janus Party is in power, the results for so many millions around the rest of the world is the same: murder, mayhem, destruction.
We need to get down off our undeserved high horse and leave other peoples and their ways of life, of governance, of society Alone.
Citizens that tolerate secret courts must accept a level of fascism. Page’s ‘rap sheet’ (redacted) as a repeat offender in that Star Chamber is similarly secret. The abuses of the FISA and the SSCI are beyond partisan, and to imply one party provides more accountability (“either way the prospects are bleak: no accountability for the National Security State, which is to be expected, or four more years of Trump.”) is not supported by any evidence. Name precisely the person being held ‘accountable’ under criminal proceedings. For that matter, name one such person held ‘accountable’ in the court’s 41 years. It is easy to think of a whistleblower who got exiled for revealing such abuse
See declassified document re FISA court: documentcloud.org/documents/743216-primaryorder-collection-215.html).
Am I wrong to think that four more years of Trump would be worthwhile to expose, prosecute and possibly reform the national security state?
I can muse over such thoughts without much trouble because I’ll be voting neither for Trump, nor for Biden. I’ll continue to vote for the Greens (as I couldn’t sleep if I were to vote for either of the two war crimes parties).
Nathan – while I shan’t be voting for either so-called candidate (nor their VPs – perhaps to be Prezzis), not too sure about the Greens either (if the German Greens are owt to go by). Probably a write in in accord with my own politics – after all, my late husband used to call me the Last Leninist (even as he had/has the very man’s photo above his desk….)…
AnneR: German Greens have become a disgrace, and that since many years already. Not only are they unconditional supporters of Israeli apartheid policies, but also of empire. Just recently they had a big conference (cannot remember the exact occasion) and had Madeleine Albright (of “the death of 500,000 Iraqi children was worth it”) as the guest of honor! Joshka Fischer has special relations (!) with her. Even in the Navalny affair and Nord Strom 2, the German Greens are not much different than CDU. If I were in Germany, I’d vote for the Die Linke.
Fortunately, the US Green Party is similar to the German one in name only. Unfortunately though, the US counterpart’s foot print is minuscule.
I’ll vote for the Greens although I have seriously considered voting for “Donald” instead – “Donald Duck”.
Thank you, Ray. Even more depressing news about our plutocracy and presstitution media.
None of this has, to my hearing, anyway, made it to NPR. Well, of course not. And even were it to, it would given the same weak-kneed, whitewashed cover that apparently even Graham doesn’t have the inner will to challenge.
It really is time for a total overhaul. And the first two steps: 1. enforced time limits for politicos and the supremos – no life-time sinecures; no life-time comfortable access to not only to taxpayer incomes, medical insurance but also not to that legalized baksheesh called donations and whatnot: 2. a wide expansion of the polity to include a goodly variety of political parties ALL with equal electoral access to the “presidency” and Congress. You know, something approaching a democracy.
And we absolutely need – the total expulsion of $$$ from politics, zero influence by purchase (bribery and corruption as it all is). An end to the corporate-capitalist-imperialist plutocratic state and its MIC-National Security state apparatus.
Yes, I suspect the lesser of two evils is for Trump to win a second term and for him then to tackle the “Agencies” If the Agencies continue unchecked it will be the end of democracy in the US. Whether Trump has the capability or the will to reform the Agencies is debatable.
Kudos! Ray. I agree. Even if the Republicans retain control of the Senate but Democrats take the Presidency, I would be very surprised if Senate investigations would result in criminal prosecutions.
Wasn’t Comey’s meeting with Trump exactly like the meetings that J. Edgar Hoover used to have with each new incoming President? “Mr. President, I want you to know about some information in our files about your behavior in the past. We don’t have any evidence that these allegations are true, but it could be a problem for you if they got out to the news media.” The FBI did not (and still does not, I believe) record any confidence level related to information in their files, thus creating an implied blackmail scenario for the new President: “You wouldn’t want any of this information to get out, would you?”
J. Edgar Hoover rode this game into a lifetime role as head of the FBI with extraordinary influence over one President after another so he had complete freedom to use the FBI for his own right-wing goals. It seems like Comey was trying to use the unsubstantiated Steele Dossier (paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign!) to obtain similar influence over Trump. Trump didn’t understand how the game was played, and fired Comey. It’s too bad that getting rid of Trump also implies reinforcing the powerful “Deep State” intelligence/military community.