The House Intelligence Committee held its first public hearing into Russian Interference in the 2016 election on March 20, 2017 when James Comey, director of the FBI and Admiral Mike Rogers who serves as the Director of the National Security Agency (NSA), Commander of the U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), and Chief of the Central Security Service (CSS). As part of the hearings, the Committee is also investigating claims by President Trump of “Wiretapping.”
Yesterday, March 22, 2917, Representative Devin Nunes, who is currently serving as chairman of the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence), held essentially two press conferences to reveal newly discovered information on President Trump’s wiretapping claims.
Ten (10) Critical Takeaways.
1. President Trump and/or his transition team were surveilled “incidental” to normal surveillance activities of foreign agents (video at 3:35); although it was unknown how this information was picked up (video at 3:59). Presumably this surveillance began as a FISA warrant. However, American citizens in the United States who are intercepted incidental to a FISA order, are to remain masked with identities concealed and omitted from the intelligence briefing and not disseminated absent content that rises to criminal or national security level.
2. Representative Nunes stated unequivocally, that there was no criminal conduct and that the information contained in the intelligence briefings did not rise to national security concerns or threshold amounts. In fact, Nunes noted that “details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration—details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting (video at :54). Further, additional names of Trump transition team members were unmasked when none of this surveillance was related to Russian or the investigation of Russian activities of the Trump team. A lot of the information on the president detailed him and his transition team and what they were doing (video at 7:30).
3. There were at least two dozen reports (perhaps more) discussing the activities of the Trump transition team from November through mid-January of 2017. These reports were compiled and disseminated to intelligence communities and perhaps the Obama White House.
4. None of the lawful surveillance include surveillance of Russian ties and of the intelligence gathered, none involve Russia or Russians.
5. Perhaps one of the most important takeaways is that the information reviewed by Nunes was not provided by the FBI, NSA, or CIA. Rather, Nunes made a public request for individuals with information and the authentic documents turned over were done so lawfully by a concerned individual or individuals. The agencies have not turned over these documents. Specifically, on Monday, Nunes “encouraged anyone who has information about relevant topics including surveillance to come forward . . .” (video at :35)
6. The unlawful disclosure and dissemination of the identity of an American citizen incidental to a FISA court order is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
7. While Trump has used the term “wiretapping,” Nunes clarified that Trump and his team had used the term broadly to cover all manners of surveillance. And Nunes himself was “concerned that other surveillance was used.” (video at :53).
8. There will be a thorough investigation to determine:
a. Who was aware of it;
b. Why it wasn’t disclosed to Congress;
c. Who requested and authorized the additional unmaskings;
d. Whether anyone directed the intelligence community to focus on Trump associates; and
e. Whether any law, regulations, or procedures, were violated.
9. Representative Cummings (Democrat) has called for an investigation into Representative Nunes for announcing publicly that a source showed him evidence. (I would be interested in the law applicable to that).
10. Nunes reminded the press that in July of 2014 the CIA improperly surveilled and spied on the Senate Intelligence Committee when they were reviewing the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.
Why it’s important.
A U.S. citizen is protected by the 4th Amendment of the Constitution (part of the Bill of Rights) against unreasonable searches and seizures. This right is enshrined in our heritage and reflects the founder’s belief of protect of citizens against abuse by their government. This right reads:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
This right prevents the government from spying, harassing, and prosecuting its own citizens including those who disagree with the government. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Action allows spying to be done on agents of a foreign government while in the U.S. by obtaining a FISA court warrant. U.S. citizens who are surveilled incidental to those lawful activities are supposed to stay hidden or “masked” unless there is a threshold amount of activity that is illegal or these incidental subjects are engaging in activities covered by the national security issues. Routinely, agents of foreign governments are surveilled.
Parsing Nunes’ language, the communications of Trump and his transition team were picked up by a lawful FISA warrant. However, the information obtained was not criminal and had “little or no foreign intelligence value.” Yet, those individuals were unmasked, additional unmasking was done, and then the information was widely disseminated in the intelligence community in real time, across “dozens” of reports, during November, December, and January. All of this was done in violation of the Constitution and 4th Amendment rights. This should scare every citizen because if the intelligence community will abuse its power by directing their efforts on an incoming president, they will have no qualms about abusing your rights as a citizen. The intelligence community has a long history of abusing U.S. citizens’ rights and this is just the latest example- and probably just the tip of the iceberg. This should outrage every citizen regardless of what you may think of Trump.
Additionally, bear the following in mind: 1) none of the intelligence agencies willingly disclosed any of this information in response to the request by Congress; it was brought to Nunes by a whistleblower. 2) what is to preclude lawful surveillance of all individuals surrounding “a real target” whose communications are then incidentally collected and disseminated without a proper warrant and without constitutional protections? Lastly, this is all classified information. Had this whistleblower not come forward, it is quite probable that no one would even know this is being done under the guise of “national security.”
Late Thursday, there is some breaking new on the possible identity of the whistleblower. Below you will find a letter drafted by Larry Klayman, General Counsel of Freedom Watch which indicates that 1) government abuse of power has been and continues to be a problem; and 2) a whistleblower stepped forward; and 3) nothing is being done to curb the violations by our government.