The Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, says that there was ″incidental collection″ of communications of President-Elect Donald Trump and his transition team just after the 2016 elections. This news does vindicate President Trump after his observation of various news media stories about how Trump Tower may have been ″wiretapped″ by the Obama administration. Even when pressed by reporters, Nunes said he could not ″rule out″ the possibility that Barack Obama or his senior staff were aware of this ′incidental′ monitoring. Nunes also confirms that the reports he has seen, numbered in the dozens, had nothing to do with Russia nor the Russian hacking probe. Here is what the hub-bub is all about…
While Nunes gave few details, the picture he painted is one of inappropriate use and distribution of classified electronic intercepts. Most likely from the NSA, the National Security Agency, which Nunes said was cooperating, unlike the FBI. The reports in question may involve two foreign nationals, neither of whom were Russians. That they had conversations with Trump and his transition staff, or had discussed them. These conversations were intercepted under existing, presumably legal, FISA warrants. However, under FISA laws, the names of American citizens captured ′incidentally′ by such intercepts must be masked, protected and purged after 90 days if no further criminal case is deemed necessary. Then, another FISA warrant would be required to unmask those names.
What concerns Nunes is that from the documents he saw, some names were unmasked, while others which were still masked could easily be identified. These intercepts were then distributed in ″intelligence products″, or reports, summaries, to pretty much anyone who had clearance and access. Including those 16 other intelligence agencies as well as the White House. The Obama White House, that is! Nunes added that what he found most disturbing is that the material intercepted had no real intelligence value. So, that begs the question who decided to put this material in reports and why? Nunes said that he has yet to learn who ordered the original surveillance, and is also unaware who tasked the reports or changing the tasking concerning the masking of the names of American citizens.
In some respects, I have to say that this is an even larger story than what President Trump tweeted about three weeks ago. If I were to do some dot-connecting like Rachel Maddow, I would link the post-election scramble by the Obama White House to place staff members in positions within the Intelligence Community, along with his executive order changing the rules on who can access such data, expanding the distribution greatly. Add to that stories reported in The Media about how these very Obama staffers were busy compiling all intelligence documents they could get their hands on which had Trump and his staff mentioned in them. This paints a very grim and ugly picture of how a police state functions.
Naturally, Democrats and The Media are trying to downplay all of this. They are trying to blame Nunes for ″playing politics″ while ignoring how the Obama administration has been using our intelligence apparatus as a political weapon. On Monday, both FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers said that there was no evidence of collusion between the Trump organization and the Russians in regards to influencing the 2016 elections. Shortly after Nunes made his announcement about this ′incidental collection′ on Trump, his co-chair on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), suddenly claims that there is more than circumstantial evidence of collusion. However, no real facts are given.
Of course, Comey, nor Rogers, happened to mention this post-election activity. Comey admitted that the Trump-Russia probe started at least back in July of 2016. About the same time that the FBI probe into Hillary Clinton′s email scandal was winding down after Loretta Lynch met privately with Bill Clinton. While Comey had no choice but to go public about the Clinton probes, due to the amount of evidence that had been reported in the news, Comey and the FBI remained silent about the Trump investigation. We can assume, given statements by Comey, Rogers, James Clapper and John Brennan, that there was nothing to any collusion between Trump, his team and the Russians.
Then we get CNN and other press sources trying to connect dots between Paul Manafort and some Russians he had done business with some 10 or more years ago. Other names pop up like Roger Stone and Carter Page, even though they were not officially part of the Trump campaign. Rep. Nunes also stated to the press that there are still many unanswered questions about how conversations between Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak were intercepted and later leaked? Also, one telephone conversation between then Sen. Jeff Sessions and Kislyak.
NSA programs like ″Stellar Wind″ practically intercept all electronic communications. Every phone call, every keystroke on your computer. We know from previous leakers like Edward Snowden that these intercepts cover a lot of ground and are stored for future access. So, for Obama to migrate a bunch of his staffers into the Intelligence Community after the elections to begin gathering any and all data concerning Donald Trump is not as far-fetched at it may seem. Especially after Obama changed and expanded access to this data. The scary part is that while it would not take a large number of people to search these data bases to hunt for political dirt to leak, the reality is that hundreds, if not thousands of government employees and contractors probably can access these files as well. Nobody is really safe from potential scrutiny.
This is why I say that these revelations by Rep. Devin Nunes on the ″incidental collection″ of data on President Donald Trump and his staff is far worse than what Trump had tweeted about. Had there been some sort of directed surveillance ordered by someone within the Obama administration, a possibility which Nunes still will not rule out, we would have a clear trail of records. FISA warrants, requests, etc, to follow. But what Nunes have stumbled into is an even greater problem of individual privacy in the digital age. The potential for all sorts of political mischief now exists. Nunes stated yesterday that the FISA laws may need addressing as more details emerge from this. If I were Trump, I would start by rescinding the Obama executive order on data sharing which would at least limit access to maybe a few dozen people within our intelligence management. However, I′m so sure that even that would make much of a difference anymore.
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