Tag Archives: President Trump

Two Important Articles Re: Surveillance of President Trump and other Americans

These two articles (from Friday March 24) really help to better explain many of the complex issues involved in President Trump’s “wiretapping” claims.

The first is a great interview with former FBI Agent Coleen Rowley by Dennis J. Bernstein. The second is an awesome surveillance primer by Charlie Savage.

Surveillance State Goes After Trump
By Dennis J Bernstein for Consortium News

* Although Trump’s accusations of Obama personally ordering Trump tower to be “wiretapped” remain unsubstantiated, it’s only technically incorrect because he used the word “wiretapped” which implies specifically tapping a phone land line, as opposed to “monitoring” all communications of a target, which includes cell phone communications, email, and anything else.

* So, in a more general sense, Trumps calls WERE picked up, while government agencies were “monitoring other targets.”

* To be clear, Rowley said “I think Trump is vindicated” on this issue. So, although Trump may have been confused about the correct term to use, the essence of what he was saying was true; his communications were been intercepted. (As House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes has stated: there is evidence of U.S. intelligence picking up conversations by Trump while monitoring other targets.)

* Also due to this technical difference between “wiretapping” and “surveillance” or the “monitoring” of the targets in question, FBI Director Comey was technically telling the truth when he said that they had found no evidence of the wiretapping mentioned in Trump’s tweets.

* Congressional Spying was actually the exact reason that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was created; as a result of the Frank Church Committee (created when Senator Frank Church found out he was being surveilled by the NSA).

* Looking back at history, flimsy Title III orders were used by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover against Martin Luther King Jr.  (to hide microphones in his hotels), and they were based on guilt by association.

* These orders had “very little probable cause” and were usually “a paragraph or two alleging that an associate or a cousin of an associate was a communist.” These were the kinds of orders used to spy on Frank Church and others.

* With all this in mind, you would think that Congress would have considered the downsides to mass surveillance, but it looks like the last 30 years of congresspeople that came in forgot about the problem.

There are more points than this! You should read the whole thing :)

Second article:
Amid Trump Inquiry, a Primer on Surveillance Practices and Privacy

By Charlie Savage for the New York Times

* Incidental collection is standard operating procedure.

* The private information of Americans is routinely intercepted in this process.

* There are repositories of “raw” (unprocessed) emails and phone calls that are place into “repositories” that intelligence analysts can then query, looking for specific information relevant to what they are working on, using keywords or names.

* When writing surveillance-based reports for broader dissemination within the intelligence community, analysts are supposed to “minimize” any privacy intrusion into Americans, “masking” any names and private information.

* Minimization rules have exceptions for leaving the private information “unmasked” if it’s impossible to understand the foreign intelligence otherwise.

* “One issue of concern is the ‘backdoor search loophole’ – when officials search raw repositories of surveillance information intending to pull out and read any incidentally collected private messages of an American – especially when those messages were gathered without a warrant in the first place.”

* The FISA Amendments Act will expire at the end of 2017 unless congress enacts new legislation extending it.

There are more points than this! You should read the whole thing.

A Deeper Look Into President Trump’s Surveillance Claims

Stepping back for a moment from the extreme nature of Trump’s accusing President Obama of personally ordering Trump’s phone to be tapped, it looks like the surveillance itself might have taken place; and it could have taken place any number of ways.

Tapping Trump?

by Julian Sanchez for Just Security, offers a very helpful historical and legal analysis of the situation.

After a March 4th Trump tweet storm (Tweet 1, Tweet 2, Tweet 3, Tweet 4),  with varied accusations that Former President Obama was tapping his phone, Kevin Lewis (Obama’s spokesman) was quick to clarify:

“A cardinal rule of the Obama Administration was that no White House Official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is completely false.”

This seems to suggest that, if surveillance took place, that Trump himself, a U.S. citizen, was not the ordered target.

When a non-U.S. citizen is under surveillance, it could be as a result of FISA, provisions under the Patriot Act, or even the the NSA’s routine day to day surveillance powers, as outlined in Executive order 12333. (See the Washington Post’s  in NSA-intercepted data, those not targeted far outnumber the foreigners who are.)

So, it would seem that, once they communicate with a suspected foreign party, any and all U.S. citizens easily fall under one of these three umbrellas.

Sanchez calls this “reverse targeting,” and explains it in the Just Security article:

“In either event, there’s nothing here to suggest either the direct involvement of President Obama nor any clear indication of a violation of the law. If, however, the primary purpose of the investigation was to build a criminal case against U.S. persons in the Trump camp, then the use of FISA authorities to gather information by naming foreign entities sounds like “reverse targeting”—tasking collection on a foreign target when your real interest is a U.S. person with whom they’re communicating. That would be, to use the technical term, highly shady even if not unlawful.

Here is the complete analysis from the article (emphasis and bolding is my own):

Taking all these claims with the appropriate sodium chloride seasoning, what can we infer? First, contrary to what many on social media—and even a few reporters for reputable outlets—have asserted, the issuance of a FISA order does not imply that the FBI established probable cause to believe that any Trump associate was acting as an “agent of a foreign power” or engaged in criminal wrongdoing. That would be necessary only if the court had authorized direct electronic surveillance of a United States person, which (if we credit the BBC report) the FISC apparently declined to do.

Assuming the initial applications were indeed for full-blown electronic surveillance orders, then the fact that the FBI supposedly did name the Trump associates at first would suggest they may have thought they had such evidence, but one would expect the FISC to apply particularly exacting scrutiny to an application naming persons associated with an ongoing presidential campaign. An application targeting only foreign corporate entities—especially entities openly controlled or directed by the Russian government—would require no such showing, even if the FBI’s ultimate interest were in communications concerning those U.S. persons.

It’s worth noting here that, contra Trump’s claim on Twitter, none of the articles in question claim that phones were tapped. Indeed, it’s not even entirely clear that the order the FISC finally issued in October was a full-blown electronic surveillance warrant requiring a probable cause showing.

If the FBI was primarily interested in obtaining financial transaction records, corporate documents, and (depending on both the facts and the FISC’s interpretation of the FISA statute) perhaps even some stored e-mail communications, that information might well have been obtainable pursuant to a §215 “business records” order, which imposes only the much weaker requirement that the records sought be “relevant to an authorized investigation.” The BBC’s use of the word “intercept” to describe the investigators’ aim, as well as Mensch’s characterization of the order as a “warrant,” both suggest full-blown electronic surveillance, but reporters aren’t always particularly meticulous about their use of legal terms of art, and similarly, sources with indirect knowledge of an investigation may not be scrupulously exact about the distinction between an “order” and a “warrant.”

In either event, there’s nothing here to suggest either the direct involvement of President Obama nor any clear indication of a violation of the law. If, however, the primary purpose of the investigation was to build a criminal case against U.S. persons in the Trump camp, then the use of FISA authorities to gather information by naming foreign entities sounds like “reverse targeting”—tasking collection on a foreign target when your real interest is a U.S. person with whom they’re communicating. That would be, to use the technical term, highly shady even if not unlawful.

Thanks to the Patriot Act, however, FISA authorities may be used in investigations that have a “significant” foreign intelligence purpose, even if the “primary” purpose is criminal prosecution—a change from the prior standard imposed by the courts, which had required that foreign intelligence be the “primary” purpose of surveillance under the aegis of FISA, precisely to prevent authorities from evading the stricter requirements imposed by Title III, the statute that covers wiretapping for domestic criminal investigations.