A special report from the Accuracy in Media Center for Investigative Journalism; Cliff Kincaid, Director.
(Editor’s Note: Public hearings on this controversy are scheduled for March 20 and 28 by the House Intelligence Committee.)
Senate Intelligence Committee leaders from both parties, Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mark Warner (D-VA), have issued a disingenuous statement that “no element of the United States government” surveilled “Trump Tower.” They dishonestly evade the fact that media reporting two days earlier had said that British intelligence operating at U.S. behest had likely been implicated in wiretapping Trump and Trump associates, all at the instigation of the U.S. government.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on March 16 that Fox News sources have reported through retired Judge Andrew Napolitano that then-President Obama had used two officials to arrange with the British NSA, called GCHQ or Government Communications Headquarters, to carry out the wiretapping of both Trump and Trump associates. (See this AIM guest column.) The British now dispute this claim.
This evasive use of British spying is done in order to leave no American “fingerprints” on the highly illegal operation, as the White House quoted Judge Napolitano. It is a long-standing practice under treaty-like intelligence agreements that British intelligence can use NSA facilities, and vice versa, for shell-game eavesdropping.
The trick is for the two agencies to swap places so that the NSA can deny they are wiretapping, and the GCHQ can deny that they are wiretapping. The Brits are trying to escape in between these moves of what a key expert has called the US-UK “wiretapping shell game.”
This is the first time that news sources have explicitly stated that Obama personally ordered the wiretapping of Trump himself, through Obama officials going to the British, though it has been implied in the past by the suspicious lack of any circumspect denials, even when The New York Times said on January 19 and 20 that “wiretapped communications” went to the Obama White House. No one in the article said “Obama White House—but not Obama personally.”
Consider how one important person—President Trump—got the clear media message that he was indeed the target of the spying: President Trump told Fox News’s Tucker Carlson that he read this New York Times story of January 20 before he tweeted about Obama “wiretapping” him. White House spokesman Spicer quoted from this article.
President Trump told Carlson on Fox on March 15 why he tweeted what he did: “Well, I’ve been reading…I think it was January 20…New York Times article where they were talking about wiretapping….I think they used that exact term.”
NEW YORK TIMES (print edition) Jan. 20, 2017, Headline:
“Wiretapped Data Used in Inquiry of Trump Aides”
“found no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing … [but]
“… Wiretapped communications had been provided to the [Obama] White House.” [Emphasis added; bracketed [ ] text added.]
And since the “wiretapped communications” had been given to the Obama “White House,” according to The New York Times, it naturally leads to the inference that Obama himself knew and approved of the “wiretapping” of the Trump team. Otherwise, the question would indeed be Watergate déjà vu: What did Obama know and when did he know it?
Remember, this is the same New York Times, along with other hostile media, that is attacking President Trump for making what it calls “baseless” and “unsubstantiated” claims of Obama administration wiretapping of Trump. It is its own reporting that President Trump was referring to.
The Times hypocritically suppresses its own front-page headline stories about “Wiretapped Data Used in Inquiry of Trump Aides” which claimed that these “wiretapped communications” reports went to the Obama White House (New York Times, Jan. 20, 2017).
White House spokesman Spicer forcefully made this point to the press, which viciously dodged his points to continue insisting that “there’s no evidence of this” at all, repeatedly and rudely interrupting Spicer in an acrimonious confrontation.
Again, the question is: What did Obama know and when did he know it?
How the “Wiretap Shell Game” Works
Some reports claim that the Obama administration sought and/or obtained FISA Court warrants to tap phone calls and hack emails in Trump Tower.
But FISA warrants are routinely avoided by a little-known intelligence trick of using U.S.-British intelligence “reciprocity agreements” to dodge U.S. laws and vice versa. There are now direct reports of this Obama-orchestrated British wiretapping of Trump, cited by the White House to back up President Trump’s statements and tweets.
The British are issuing denials. But it is well-known that U.S. intelligence agencies can routinely arrange for British intelligence officers to use NSA facilities to spy on Americans, so that the U.S. agencies can claim that “they” (the U.S.) did no wiretapping or surveillance of Americans. It is a type of “plausible denial” government lie (see more on this in the appendix to this article).
The strange involvement of an “ex” British MI6 agent, Christopher Steele, in conducting “opposition research” during a U.S. election has raised no questions in the left-wing media. It bears consideration, as it could represent in reality a British “reciprocity” covert operation on behalf of Obama’s CIA, one to fabricate discrediting disinformation about Trump, not a mere intelligence-gathering or wiretapping operation.
The exact means and exact agency by which this wiretapping, or much of it, has been done had been left unclear until now, when the claimed British connection surfaced. These types of British surveillance wiretaps are known as operations under “UKUSA” and “BRUSA” intelligence “reciprocity” agreements, which are the functional equivalent of formal treaties in the spy world.
Such “reciprocity” operations are designed to evade the laws of each country, the U.S. and the UK, by having the British spy on Americans who the Americans want spied on, and having the Americans spy on the British who the Brits want spied on. Each side then exchanges the wiretap and other data the other side wants, thus without directly incriminating themselves. UKUSA reciprocity treaty “requests” have the force of direct orders to the other country’s intelligence agencies.
The wiretap data is exchanged under bogus traditional claims of the “extreme sensitivity” of “foreign liaison” intelligence, in order to obstruct outside oversight and thus in reality conceal surveillance of questionable legality. The UKUSA arrangements go beyond mere data searches and exchanges, by having, for example, British agents use NSA equipment and facilities on a rental lease basis to spy on the Americans that U.S. agencies want surveilled (and vice versa) so that the best equipment in the best position of access is used.
Former Justice Department Nazi-hunter John Loftus has documented how this British-U.S. “wiretap shell game” works, and pointed out how it is used to spy on political candidates in elections, and is covered up from Congress. Loftus reported:
“Over the years the British back-channel inside the NSA was used for a variety of political dirty tricks. A large number of American candidates for public office have been placed under electronic surveillance by British intelligence officers sitting at their ‘temporary listening post’ at [NSA] Fort Meade.” [Loftus, Secret War Against the Jews, 1997, p. 195]
The media have been saying that their government sources report that the CIA-NSA-FBI intercept targeting of Russians shifted to the targeting of the Trump team by September, 2016—possibly as early as June, 2016. There are reports of rejected FISA court applications in June and July of 2016 which would indicate that change of focus. (Incidentally, rejections by the FISA court are normally almost unheard-of.)
The BBC’s twist on the third alleged try at a FISA warrant, allegedly granted on October 15, was that it was narrowly drawn against only two Russian banks. But the BBC was at pains to assure us that they had an unnamed source who said that “three of Mr. Trump’s associates were the subject of the inquiry.”
“But it’s clear this is about Trump,” the source told the BBC.
New York Times Lies About Its Own Reporting
Meanwhile The New York Times is doubling down on its lies, pretending it never reported that Trump or his aides had been wiretapped, and with supreme chutzpah claims, “It is not clear why Mr. Trump thought he was wiretapped or what led him to make the claim.” Again, look at the front-page New York Times headline.
The New York Times has been forced by confused readers to grudgingly admit that President Trump’s tweets on Obama’s wiretapping actually do “echo certain aspects of The New York Times’s reporting from recent weeks.” But they try to offer up sorry excuses to explain away the glaring contradiction in their own reporting of Obama administration wiretapping of Trump and/or Trump people—and then their denials of it. The New York Times claims that what they originally said was that Obama officials merely investigated past wiretap data in archives of “routine” surveillance already done, but did not wiretap into future data.
But the New York Times stated in January that after past recordings of phone calls of Trump people had been checked, that the FBI “asked” the NSA to continue to “collect as much information as possible”—evidently without restraint or limitations—in what were clearly all future wiretapped calls between Russians and Trump people. It’s known as an intelligence “collection requirement.” (New York Times on January 20 and February 14; see also the BBC on January 12.)
White House spokesman Spicer, days before the Times’ excuse-making, clearly explained that President Trump’s tweets on March 4 were based on open-source news media reporting of the wiretaps—thus including The New York Times—over the last few months.
In fact, the news media have been reporting since at least September 23, 2016, that U.S. intelligence has been “actively monitoring” the “talks” (conversations), “wiretapping” the phone “calls,” and intercepting other communications of Trump aides or Trump himself—communications allegedly made with the Russians.
“Active monitoring” means wiretapping and surveillance of future phone calls, emails, texts, and other communications on an ongoing basis.
Not a shred of any New York Times or other reporting since September, 2016 on the “wiretapping” of Trump and/or his aides has demonstrated any concern whatsoever for Trump’s civil rights or the sanctity of the election process. No concern was expressed by the CIA, FBI, NSA or other agencies, or by the Obama White House—or by the media doing the reporting. In fact, they have been quite excited and eager about the prospect of illegal snooping on Trump.
As White House spokesman Spicer pointed out, efforts were made by Obama officials during their last days in office to lessen the protections of wiretap data in order to spread more widely any highly-sensitive wiretap data on Trump. The New York Times reported on March 1 that the Obama administration’s lowering of “classification levels” of NSA data was done to “spread” the Trump wiretaps around various agencies and even foreign governments (see Obama DNI James Clapper’s orders lowering security protections of raw NSA intercept data, December. 15, 2016).
The New York Times had originally reported on January 12 that this massive lowering of NSA wiretap data security was in contrast to Obama’s previous tightening of regulations in 2014, after the Snowden mass leak, to give “privacy protections to foreigners,” like they were Americans. But not for Trump.
The New York Times headline story on March 1 that said Obama officials had “Rushed to Preserve Intelligence of Russian Election Hacking” also admitted that officials say that alleged Trump collusion with Russia “has not been confirmed” in any of that intelligence wiretap data.
So what were they “rushing” to “preserve?” It is the purported Trump “conspiracy” with Russia that is utterly unsubstantiated and baseless. Wiretapping one’s political opponents in an election, as Obama or his minions have done, is a classic Watergate-style threat to the democratic process.
The Fake “Trump Dossier”
“As part of the inquiry,” wrote The New York Times, this “wiretapping” was done by the CIA, FBI and/or NSA to try to “investigate” the alleged Trump-Russian connections claimed in what is known as the (fake) “Trump dossier”—within a broader investigation of alleged Russian hacking and other supposed election interference (NY Times, January 20, February 14, 2017).
This “Trump dossier” is the controversial document composed by ex-British agent Christopher Steele, who had been paid by Hillary Clinton’s still unidentified backers to do election “opposition research” against then-candidate Trump. It is riddled with absurd self-contradictions and vile allegations against President Trump.
The “dossier” cannot even make up its mind, so to speak, as to whether the Russians did spend “years” passing political dirt on Hillary Clinton to Trump to help “cultivate” relationship with him—or did not in fact ever pass such info to Trump (Steele report, June 20, 2016). There are at least eight different origins of the hacked or leaked DNC emails claimed in the “dossier,” including that Trump hacked them, not the Russians, or that they were all just “created” or “made up.”
The one-party opposition media have managed to ignore the ridiculous contents of the bogus “Trump dossier” with its raving lunatic absurdities.
For example, thousands of Russian retirement “pensioners,” according to the “dossier,” did the hacking of the DNC emails and passed them on to Russian officials, apparently in secret meetings at (we infer) park benches and shuffleboard affairs in Miami and elsewhere (Steele reports 095 and 111 and Newsweek, November 4, 2016).
These Russian retirement pensioners living in the U.S. are “hacking…cyberoperatives” according to Newsweek, in its pre-election article heavily based on Steele’s “Trump dossier,” oblivious to the patent absurdity of the claim.
You will not hear about that from the anti-Trump media, which so desperately wants the “Trump dossier” to be believed, regardless of whether any of it is true.
Former Justice Department Nazi-hunter, John Loftus, has explained how this US-British reciprocity scheme—or “wiretap shell game,” as he calls it—works. Loftus’ evidence of the top secret trick of US-British, NSA-GCHQ wiretapping of Americans is based on numerous NSA sources and others from many agencies stretching back decades, including censorship of this information from his and another expert’s early book manuscripts because of “classification” (Loftus, Secret War Against the Jews, 1997, pp. 188-195, 548-9).
According to Loftus this is how the illegal wiretapping “game” is played:
“… the NSA headquarters [at Fort Meade, Md.] is also the chief British espionage base in the United States. The presence of British wiretappers at the keyboards of American eavesdropping computers is a closely guarded secret….”
“The NSA is a giant vacuum cleaner. It sucks in every form of electronic information, from telephone calls to telegrams, across the United States. The presence of British personnel is essential for the American wiretappers to claim plausible deniability.
“Here’s how the game is played. The British liaison officer at [NSA Hq] Fort Meade types the [NSA-supplied] target list of ‘suspects’ into the American computer. The NSA computer sorts through its wiretaps and gives the British officer the recording of any American citizen he wants.
“Since it is technically a British target of surveillance, no American search warrant is necessary. [Loftus’ italics] The British officer then simply hands the results over to his American liaison officer. Of course, the Americans provide the same service to the British in return….”
“According to our sources, this duplicitous, reciprocal arrangement disguises the most massive, and illegal, domestic espionage apparatus in the world….
“Through this charade, the intelligence services of each country can claim that they are not targeting their own citizens. The targeting is done by an authorized foreign agent, the intelligence liaison resident in Britain or the United States” [Loftus, pp. 189-190; endnotes omitted].
Loftus describes how the courts tried to shut down some of the domestic wiretapping abuses, and how the FBI succeeded in evading the judiciary. Then the Bureau got its dream come true with the FISA law, which only applied to U.S. agencies, not the British:
“In 1978 Congress finally passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FIS) Act [or FISA], a feeble attempt to stamp out some of the worst excesses of domestic espionage…. [But FISA] was restricted only to targeting by American agencies, leaving the British liaison officer with a major loophole. The restrictive language added to the FIS Act [FISA] left unchanged the arrangement under which the British wiretapped American suspects and then passed on the information to the NSA.”
“To this day Congress does not realize that the British liaison officers at the NSA are still free to use American equipment to spy on American citizens. And, in fact, they are doing just that. Congress has been kept in the dark deliberately” [Loftus, pp. 191-2].
Naturally, such dirty-trick U.S.-British spying schemes have led to political abuses. In a comment of eerie timeliness today, with the claims of Obama directing the wiretapping of candidate Trump through British intelligence, Loftus states that:
“Over the years the British back-channel inside the NSA was used for a variety of political dirty tricks. A large number of American candidates for public office have been placed under electronic surveillance by British intelligence officers sitting at their ‘temporary listening post’ at [NSA] Fort Meade.” [Loftus, p. 195]