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The Trump Era

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Did Obama Abuse Raw Intelligence?

March 24th 2017

Obama bummed out

I couldn’t have seen those transcripts when I led the House intel committee.

It was remarkable when Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, revealed Wednesday that Trump campaign officials were caught up in the inadvertent collection of intelligence. Read between the lines with a clear understanding of the intelligence community, and it’s positively astonishing.

Starting with the premise of Mr. Nunes’s announcement, there’s evidence to show that communications involving people connected with the Trump transition were collected by America’s intelligence apparatus. We don’t know the particulars, but it could include conversations between Trump transition staff and foreign officials whose conversations were subject to intelligence monitoring.

Things begin to get a little frightening when we learn that this inadvertent collection of Trump staff conversations was followed up with transcriptions of those conversations and the disclosure (or unmasking) of the persons involved in the conversation. These transcripts would be considered raw intelligence reports.

When I was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, I was routinely involved in briefings as a member of the “Gang of Eight”—both parties’ leaders in the House and Senate and on the intelligence committees. I cannot recall how many times I asked to see raw intelligence reporting and was refused because that stuff is just not made available to policy makers.

But according to Mr. Nunes, such information made its way to the Obama White House before Inauguration Day. Few if any people working in the White House would ever need to see raw intelligence. Like intelligence committee members, they are typically consumers of intelligence products, not raw intelligence.

The raw transcripts of masked persons—or unmasked persons, or U.S. persons who can be easily identified—making their way to the White House is very likely unprecedented. One can only imagine who, at that point, might be reading these reports. Valerie Jarrett? Susan Rice? Ben Rhodes? The president himself? We don’t know, and the people who do aren’t talking at the moment.

Then we have the testimony earlier this week from FBI Director James Comey, and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers. Mr. Comey said there was no basis to support the tweet from President Trump that his “wires” had been tapped by Barack Obama. What he didn’t say—and wasn’t asked—was whether information was collected on Trump staff by other means. Mr. Trump was a little inarticulate in the context of Twitter’s 140-character limit, but it seems he got the general picture right.

Then there’s Mr. Comey’s testimony that the FBI had been investigating Trump staff for eight months. It almost certainly included surveillance; an investigation without surveillance would approach farcical.

Adm. Rogers told the House Intelligence Committee that there are strict controls in place for masking and unmasking the identities of people caught up in the inadvertent collection of information and the distribution of this kind of material. It now appears he either misled the committee or doesn’t know what’s happening inside his own agency.

If Mr. Nunes is right, the rules either weren’t followed or were much less stringent than Adm. Rogers let on.

Last, and rather damningly, I believe that Mr. Comey and Adm. Rogers would have to have known that raw transcripts of captured conversations that included members of the Trump team were at the White House. It is inconceivable that people in those positions of power would not know. While this may not be criminal, it is at least a cause for them to be fired.

My greatest concern—the one that keeps me awake at night—is that the awesome powers of our intelligence community might have been corrupted for political purposes.

While we’re not witnessing broad, Stasi-style surveillance of citizens, it’s clear there have been serious errors of judgment and action among our otherwise professional intelligence community. This is truly scary. We have to learn the entire truth before anyone, in or out of Congress, can again have confidence in our intelligence community.


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