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Monday, April 3, 2017

Unpresidented



This morning's Twitter Rampage from Big Giant Leader

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There was electronic surveillance of Trump and the people close to Trump.

Yes, the odds are pretty high that there was electronic surveillance of Donald Trump and the people close to him.

This is unprecedented.

Yes and no.

It is unprecedented in certain regards, we’ll get to that later, but in the manner Trump meant it, well, he’s wrong.

It’s not unprecedented.

Not at all.

In fact, this is how it’s done every day.

Remember the Patriot Act?

Remember the Protect America Act?

Remember when we as Americans decided we wanted to relax the rules regarding monitoring of American citizens because we were terrified for our national security?

Remember when we said we wanted a whole lot more monitoring? And we gave the National Security Agency a massively increased budget and basically free rein to listen in on pretty much everything?

Remember?

Sure you do. It was all wrapped in the same package with warrantless wiretaps and mass collection of phone and email data, mass monitoring of the internet, searching people’s library records. Never again. We had to be safe. Remember?

And the guy currently in charge of this process – that is to say, intelligence collection – is the president.

Which means, if Trump didn’t routinely skip out on his intel briefings and hadn’t alienated the Intelligence Community on his first day in office, well, he’d have people to explain all of this.

 

The thing is that for an Administration which denies any connections to Russia, there sure are a lot of Russians around here lately.

 

Look here: The Intelligence Community of the United States and its allies monitors our adversaries.

Surprised?

I didn’t think so.

The Intelligence Community monitors our adversaries.

They’d better, that’s their job.

Now before we go any further, a note about the terms: When I say adversaries, I don’t mean enemies, or rather not just declared enemies. I mean adversaries. This is an important definition, because you, the layman, typically thinks of intelligence collection aimed only at enemies foreign and maybe domestic. But if we waited to gather information only until after that moment when some potential threat becomes our declared enemy, well, we’d be far, far behind the curve and a lot of Americans could die.

It is the Intelligence Community’s primary job to see enemies before they become enemies.

And so the Intelligence Community monitors not only active threats, but potential threats as well. Adversaries.

Now, if you’re paying attention, then the next question is: define “threat” as you just used it.

Threats are those foreign (and sometimes domestic) political, military, criminal, economic, geographic, and religious entities that are ideologically opposed to, in conflict with, potentially in conflict with, or in competition (benign or violent) with our interests. We call those targets adversaries.

Wait just a damned minute, Jim, I hear you say. I thought intelligence dealt primarily with military stuff. What’s this bit about “geographic” or “religious” or “economic?”

Fair enough. Let’s say we were dependent on some material that we can only get from a foreign entity. Something vital that affects our entire economy, our entire way of life, our very existence as a nation in its current form. We could maybe use other stuff, but we’d have to create an entire industry to support it. We’d have to switch over. We’d have to change minds and look for new ideas and frankly, it’s just easier and cheaper to keep being dependent on this foreign produced thing.  And the same is true of our allies. 

So, don’t you want to know if the countries you get that stuff from are turning hostile to you? Or if they got a better offer for this vital product from somebody else? What if they like you, but are hostile to your allies? Or your adversaries? Because if your adversaries can’t get the resources they need, they might just might invade their neighbors in order to take it by force, and then they might suddenly become your enemy (see Japan, WWII, reasons for).

Or maybe, that stuff, comes from a friendly country, but you have to ship it through hostile territory via a vulnerable pipeline or in giant vulnerable tankers through a narrow chokepoint controlled by hostile religious fanatics (see: Oil, Iran, Arabian Gulf, Straits of Hormuz)? You should maybe know something about the geography and who controls it and what they might do, yeah?

What’s that?

Pump that stuff out of the ground in our own country?

Sure, we could do that. Except the price of that stuff is set by global supply and demand.  And the stuff isn’t the same everywhere and it’s a lot harder to get it out of the ground here than it is there. And harder translates to costs more, a lot more. But you grant a bunch of leases anyway and you dump billions into spinning up the industry. You start punching expensive holes in the ground … and your adversaries all get together and triple their output, the price of the stuff drops to near record lows. And your domestic industry starts going bankrupt. Do you continue on? Bail out the industry. Hope that our pockets are deeper than theirs? And if we can just hold on long enough, maybe they’ll go bust and we’ll own the market. I mean, how do you know? What’s that? Bomb ‘em? We can’t bomb them. Those people aren’t our enemies, they are our economic adversaries. So maybe, just maybe, the intelligence community should be gathering information on foreign economies and industrial capacity, so that our political leaders can help our economic leaders make the right choices. See?

This is the entire reason for the intelligence community's existence, that is: to provide national leaders with timely, accurate, and comprehensive information on our adversaries so that those leaders can make informed decisions.

And yes, that previous sentence includes President Trump. Or it should.

 

So, we monitor our adversaries.

 

This is not a secret.

The means, the methods, the specifics, those are highly classified.

But the fact that we monitor our adversaries isn’t a secret and we’d be utter fools not to.

Therefore, it follows that if you contact entities under surveillance, you get monitored too.

If you, as an American, contact an adversarial agency that is subject to monitoring, then you get monitored too.

Let me give you a couple of examples:

Example A: All communications into and out of a war zone (let's say Syria) might be monitored.

You, Father Joe Jesuspants, leader of The American Christian Ministry For The Salvation of Little Brown Baby War Orphans, wants to provide humanitarian aid to non-combatants caught in the conflict and maybe convert some heathens to Jesus along the way.

So, you call the Syrian government for permission to travel to Aleppo.

Naturally, your call, your email, whatever, is collected as part of normal surveillance of a hostile foreign power.

You weren’t a target. The intelligence community wasn’t looking for you. But you called a lawfully authorized target of surveillance and you were recorded as part of that process like some Regular Joe walking into a bank that was in the process of being robbed. Until they sort it out, the cops can’t tell if you’re an unlucky bystander or one of the robbers.

This is called "incidental collection" or "incidental intercept."

Now, you didn't do anything wrong (providing you actually didn't do anything wrong in accordance with American, Syrian, and international law regarding humanitarian aid to a country in a warzone). You're a known Christian relief organization. You called a foreign government asking for information. Pretty innocuous.

Example B:  International communications from inside the US to the governmental agencies of a lawfully designated foreign adversary (designated by congress and the president and subject to monitoring via Executive Order) might be monitored for the reasons noted above.

You, General Joe War-Eagle, are now a retired general and a business man.

We do business with this lawfully designated adversary. They do business with us. This is all legal and in accordance with various international laws, treaties, and free trade agreements.  The beauty of capitalism is that you can still do business with people you regard as adversaries (Ask me about that time I watched Libyan forces armed with French weapons that they bought from the French attacking French forces defending Chad. The French love doing business with people who are trying to kill them. That’s capitalism, Folks. I digress).

So, anyway, this adversary would like to sell stuff in the United States but, well, Americans don’t really trust them. So they need a native guide, they need an American representative. And there you are, Former General War-Eagle, Americans love you, you’re a hero and a patriot. So this foreign outfit offers you a lot of money to do something that’s perfectly legal. So you do. Because why not? But that means you spend a lot of time on the phone, in email, receiving electronic fund transfers, with an entity that is the target of the Intelligence Community.

Sooner or later, you’re going to end up as incidental collection.

 

And then what?

 

Is it a crime, treason, to rescue war orphans or work for a Russian oil company?

No.  Of course not.

What happens if you get picked up in incidental collection is this:  As soon as it's determined that a) you're an American (and thus would require a FISA warrant to monitor, which would require pretty specific and difficult to obtain probable cause), b) it was an incidental intercept, and c) your actions are innocent and of no national interest, then the recordings and data are immediately scrubbed.

Yes, they are.

Yes. They. Are.

I have direct experience with this process. Extensive experience with this process.

While there is always shady shit going at the senior levels (because that is the nature of politicians, preachers, and generals), the guys in the trenches are absolutely scrupulous about this. Because while the aforementioned senior folks get to retire with full pay if they get caught violating the law, the guys doing the work go to jail if they break the rules. And I've seen it happen.

So, if the incidental intercept is innocent, it’s immediately erased.

Now, while the data itself is dumped, the Intelligence Community keeps a record of the incident.

Why?

For several reasons:

One, for legality's sake – exactly as you're seeing right now with the Trump Administration. If you accuse the government of monitoring your Christian relief organization (or your big gaudy golden dick-shaped tower in Manhattan) and you decide to sue over it, well, the only way for the government to prove its actions were lawful and that it followed the rules is to keep a record of exactly what occurred.

Two, if it later turns out that your Christian relief organization is a front for running guns to Syrian loyalists in violation of US, Syrian, and international law, and some senator on a crusade decides to "investigate" why the president didn't catch this (or why, say, we didn’t get wind of a bunch of shitheads with box cutters who were planning on flying some airliners into some skyscrapers, for example), well, those records will become important (this is the kind of stuff those committees are looking at in closed door sections). Yes, we monitored a phone call between x and y, but y was an American citizen and deemed of no intelligence value and so the data from y was erased in accordance with the rules set by congress and Executive Order. See?

Three, you can’t plot a curve from one point, or even two (generally speaking). But sometimes things that appear innocent individually, aren’t when put into a larger context. In other words, you being picked up in incidental collection once is something that happens. Twice, it’s a coincidence. Three times … well, there are no coincidences in intelligence work.  Let me give you an example. There’s a protest that turns violent. You happen to be passing by just when shit gets lit on fire and the windows are broken. The police arrest you for rioting. Upon questioning, it turns out you were on your way to visit your dear old grandma and you just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. So they let you go. No charges. But they keep a record. Next riot, there you are again. Crazy, officer, how these riots keep happening by Granny’s house, isn’t it? If every time there’s a riot you’re in the neighborhood, it’s not a coincidence, you’re up to something even if we can’t exactly catch you at it. That, might be enough for a warrant to look further.  Same thing with incidental collection. Every time we listen into a warzone, there you are.  Every time we listen to the Russians, there you are, there your friends are, there your business associates are. Now, even if we didn’t keep a recording of the actual words of the call (or the email) the fact that you keep contacting an adversary, might indicate something’s up even if the individual calls seem innocent. And that might be enough for a FISA warrant to dig deeper. That’s how you catch drug smugglers and mafia dons and spies.  Or not, maybe you’re calling the Russians because you do business with them and it’s all legal and aboveboard. Maybe we keep finding you in warzones because that’s what you do, you help people in warzones.  Maybe you’re at every riot because you’re an independent news photographer. But if we don’t look, we don’t know.  Spies, terrorists, criminals, they depend on us not looking.

And finally Four, the nature of intelligence collection is that it’s like one of those hoarders you read about. House crammed full of useless stuff. Most of the time, most of the information you gather is useless. Just random bits and pieces that may or may not be part of some larger whole like assembling a jigsaw puzzle in the dark when you don’t know how many pieces there are, how many you actually have, if the pieces you have actually all go the same puzzle, if some of the pieces are shared by multiple puzzles, and you have no idea what the picture on the puzzle is supposed to be and besides it’s probably in a language you don’t speak, and also the guy who made the puzzle is trying to keep you from solving it by hiding pieces and feeding you wrong pieces. Also, at the same time, all of your friends are shouting suggestions and your crazy boss is telling you what he thinks it is based on his politics and not on, you know, actual information. And if you manage to assemble a picture, well, it may turn out that you’re not interested that picture after all and you just wasted your time. That’s intelligence work in the real world. It’s hard. It’s frustrating. But sometimes that useless information becomes … useful.  Let me give you an example: Some guy in the White House nominates you for a federal job that requires congressional review and a security clearance. So you fill out the SF-86 (security clearance paperwork) and you testify before the committee and they ask you: in the last ten years have you had any contact with [insert adversary name here]. And you answer, under oath, no. No I have not. No contact. Nope. And while that might satisfy a sympathetic senator, the people tasked with checking that SF-86 are a lot more thorough. And they run something called a National Agency Check with Inquires, especially if you’re the guy applying for the job of, oh, let’s say, National Security Advisor. And that’s when it pops out of the database, wait, what’s this? You said you haven’t had contact with [insert adversary here] but we’ve got all these incidents of incidental collection. What the fuck? Now, we dumped the data so we don’t know what was said, but we damned well know you just lied your ass off to congress and on your security paperwork. Care to explain that, General War-Eagle? I mean if it was innocent, legal, aboveboard, why did you lie about it? Perhaps we should look further.

So, the point here is that if you contact adversaries of America, innocently or otherwise, the odds are high that you'll be caught up in incidental collection.

 

If you aren’t, then the Intelligence Community isn’t doing its goddamned job.

 

"@FoxNews from multiple sources: 'There was electronic surveillance of Trump, and people close to Trump. This is unprecedented.' @FBI"

These people should be monitored.

If you contact our adversaries, then you should be monitored too.

Let me repeat that: If you contact our adversaries, then you get monitored too, even if only incidentally. 

Trump is right, it is unprecedented that so many people near a presidential candidate and president elect were monitored.

Because it’s unprecedented that so many people near Trump were in contact with our adversaries.

What is unprecedented here is that so many people so close to the President of the United States have so many ties to foreign power brokers and were therefore caught up in intelligence collection.

It is unprecedented that so many people so close to Donald Trump have been in the employment of foreign agents and foreign governments and foreign adversaries.

And it is unprecedented that not a single day goes by where we don’t learn of yet another adversarial foreign connection to this administration.

Once is happenstance.

Twice is coincidence.

Three times is … well, there are no coincidences in intelligence work.

Perhaps it is innocent.

Yes, perhaps it is. That is a possibility – increasingly unlikely but still possible.

But if we don’t look, we will never know for certain.

115 comments:

  1. Thanks, that made more sense than anything else I've read about this whole mess.

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    1. I completely agree!

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    2. Thanks, Jim. As always, I have learned something new from your essay.

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    3. I agree. We should all become more informed.

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  2. I am of the firm belief that where there is smoke, there is also fire.

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    1. There may, or may not be fire, but you still call the fire department to check it out. The current administration is blaming the fire department for doing their jobs.

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    2. Where there's smoke, it's best to check for a fire.

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  3. Thanks for this breakdown on the collection and handling of information. I learned something new as I quite often do when reading your essays.

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  4. Thank you for explaining, in layman's terms, what incidental collection of intelligence data is all about. Now, if we could only get someone to explain it to the bozo in the White House, we might be able to get back to actually running a government. But I doubt there's the interest or the intellect for that to actually happen.

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    1. You can never get someone to understand something, if their job depends upon them NOT understanding it. They're doing their best to convince us they don't understand and are being picked on.

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    2. Oh Trump understands incidental collection all right. But he is doing his best to try to make sure his supporters do not understand it. Because if they did, if they, for instance, were to read this column and pass it around, then they would perhaps begin to understand how utterly their hero has sold them down the river, and how much smoke he has been blowing in their eyes.

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  5. Jim, I wish more people would take the time to read and comprehend your essays on how all this sh*t works... Instead, they believe the outrageous BS that spy movies and FarceBook sites project.

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  6. When you are innocent, you demand an investigation, when you are guilty, you obstruct all paths to the truth. " What we have here, is the failure to communicate". We always thought that R= Republican, but now we know it means R=RUSSIA! lol

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  7. Totally excellent article, Jim. I actually learned REAL AND TRUE facts! If only trump would read this and find out how things actually work. (trump deliberately not capitalized!!!) I enjoy all your posts every day. You make us THINK and reason, which is exactly what we need. Your exposure of trump's, shall we say, inadequacies, is always a delight to read. Keep up the great work............I know it's not easy.

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    1. I don't capitalize his name ever either! And if I can capitalize something else to make it more obviously intentional, I will.

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    2. Accumulation of evidence is that trump CANNOT read.

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  8. Excellent summation of the facts at hand.

    But, seriously, what about that time you watched Libyan forces armed with French weapons that they bought from the French attacking French forces defending Chad. That sounds like a story ;)

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    1. Beat me to it, but I figured somebody would.

      -- EMH

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    2. That piqued my curiosity as well...

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    3. Best told with a bottle of 30 year old close to hand.

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  9. Another well written piece. Even my 91 year old Trump supporting aunt admits there is an awful lot of Russian contacts being made by his people. Generally if there is smoke, something is malfunctioning. My feeling about incidental collection is, if you have nothing to hide you are probably okay but records should be kept. I'm also pretty sure 45 feels everyone else can be monitored but his folks are all honest so don't bother, waste of time.

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    1. Oh, I REALLY doubt he thinks all his folks are honest. I think it's more of "once I tap them on the shoulder, they can't be touched, because the President IS the law".

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    2. Absolutely! He understand the word "President" in a distinctly un-United-States-of-America way.

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    3. I just wonder when some folks will finally get the idea that the modern-day Republican Party has no interest in governing...

      They don't want to govern, and they don't know how to do so...

      They want to rule...

      And they've elected the perfect figurehead for the vibe.

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  10. Damn this is well written. Mr. Wright excellent work sir.

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  11. Post this to POTUS so he may learn something :)

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    1. We'll need someone at Faux to read it to the POTUS if we want him to hear it.

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    2. POTUS can't read anything with this many words in it. Let alone big words.

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    3. You'd either have to read it to him a sentence at a time while he's eating his Sugar Pops in the morning or have it run as a trailer at the bottom of the Fox News.

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    4. Robert Gray NewellApril 3, 2017 at 12:22 PM

      Bedtime story from Ivanka?

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    5. Don't forget the necessary graphics (♫ with circles and arrows ... ♫) all on one page.

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    6. It's my understanding that Trump's aides give him ONE sheet of paper with not more than NINE bullet points. That's a short attention span!
      Freckles

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  12. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your experience and thoughtful essay! You are an American Treasure!

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  13. Thanks. As someone tasked with acting on intell I really had little idea of the differences between enemy and adversary. I suspected any calls made to certain forgein powers might be monitored but didn't realize the info would be dumped but a note of the call made once it was determined to be a legal call. Not that I can recall ever calling an adversary unless it was the Air Force when we needed a clearance for Navy contracted aircraft.....

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  14. good information Jim. Seems silly that you have to remind people of the recent past but memories are short with some people. Sad to watch what we worked so hard to achieve go down the drain so to speak but hey maybe we all needed a reminder that the mice will play when the cat's away...

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  15. Thank you, Jim. This is a very useful, easy to read and understand post on a very important topic. I hope you don't mind that I shared it.

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  16. Damnit, there you go again, making sense and being all logical and shit.

    As a former member of the Intelligence Community, it always astounds me just how deeply the majority of Americans have their collective heads buried in their collective rectums when it comes to understanding world events.

    But, by all means, wave your fists and flags at the people with different colored skin and shout 'MERICA at the top of your lungs. Because that solves everything...

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    1. But it's SO much easier than thinking about it. Thinking hurts.

      At least, that seems to be the reaction I get when trying to "discuss" things with flag wavers. Especially when concerning certain flags.

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    2. Christian KosanovichApril 3, 2017 at 1:50 PM

      You spelled MURICA wrong

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    3. Dialect, y'all! ;)

      So nice to have Mr Wright verify my opinion! Maybe I can think after all!

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  17. Thank you for a great breakdown on how this all works. I'm sure many ppl who have no experience in intelligence think they know how things are supposed to work, in other words they have opinions but in reality they don't have a clue how much effort is exhausted just trying to get a glimpse of the whole picture. Those with critical thinking abilities and who are not brainwashed have figured this out. As an ex-cop I've often told acquaintances/friends don't hang around those ppl. They are being watched. If your car is in their driveway when we drive by, your license plate is noted and probably run through NCIC. You become guilty by association regardless of whether or not your doing anything illegal. You become part of the surveillance record and if your seen there enough times chances are we're going to pull you over at some point to look closer or possibly apply for a warrant if our suspicions are strong enough.
    Trump may be innocent, highly unlikely given every time there's a dumpster fire he's standing around the corner with a book of matches and he doesn't smoke not to mention the fact he's usually the one that called the FD.

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  18. So logical. I remember party-lines, where eavesdropping on one line-sharer also gave you the other side of the conversation. How can people not understand this? Listen in on the Russian's party-line, and, oh, look, again talking to that one guy who protests so much.

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  19. Well explained, well-written, and good to see it expressed so.

    Not all dots are connected, they may, as raw data does, simply end up as outliers on a dot plot. Even outliers, though, can possibly contribute to (or just as possibly, distort) a line of best fit - aka a trend line.

    This guy Trump and his crew are clearly up to much, much more than we've seen so far, the only question is how deep this rabbit hole goes.

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  20. Again, sensible and reality based information from you, Jim. If only you could convince the yahoos that incidental means incidental... and that sometimes incidental can lead to a bigger discovery. Guess it was ok when it was done in the name of 9/11 but…Obama. Sheesh.

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  21. This may get deleted as not contributing to the conversation, and that's fine, but I wanted to thank you for explaining why the FBI, NSA, et al has so many records of people in this administration talking to Russia. We monitor Russia for very good reasons. These men were regularly in contact with Russian officials. Therefore, we have records of it. There's no anti-Trump conspiracy here, just the uncovering of some questionable men he has in his administration.

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  22. I worked intel for 36 years. Now, to begin with Intel folks aren't big believers in coincidence - especially if they are seeing multiple lines of evidence converging on collusion and treason.

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  23. Fine piece, Jim. Thanks for laying out the facts in a manner that anyone with an ounce of intellectual integrity values.

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  24. Thanks for this very helpful breakdown of incidental collection. It makes the whole mess so much more clear.

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  25. Thank you. Your blogs and posts are one of the sources I use when I am looking for the "NO BS" information.

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  26. Masterfully written, with meticulous logic and attention to detail. You seem incapable of bad writing, sir. Thanks as always for bringing clarity to the muddiest of subjects.

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  27. Critically important, well written explanation of what we're dealing with and how it works, should work. In the times of Trump and his minions, this was a true national service, Jim. Thanks.

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  28. Beautifully clear and to the point.

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  29. Tiny little assumption you snuck in that is a fly in the ointment for me, if not you:
    "our adversary."

    Please define so we can all reasonably agree that Russia is one. I don't at present buy that. Sorry to be a skeptic. Well, no, not really sorry.

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    1. I did define adversary. Quite specifically. Russia meets that definition in spades, in a variety of categories.

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    2. Oh, sorry, Jim: I thought you were going to offer a real definition, one that couldn't be used to define EVERYONE ON THE PLANET as our adversary (not to mention any meddlesome aliens who might drop by).

      Well, f___ me blind. I guess the "intelligence community" should be trusted without question that whomever they say are our "adversaries" are indeed such. The military-industrial complex has carte blanche to do whatever it sees fit in the name of national security at home or abroad. Monitoring goes on, and of course we can trust that the information gathered is properly handled. If you don't have anything to hide, then you have nothing to worry about.

      We've been defining Russia as an adversary at least since the time of the 1917 revolution. We, the Brits, and the rest of the West have done all we could to undo that darned overthrow of the benevolent Tsars, and we would have been thrilled if Hitler had destroyed Soviet Russia while weakening itself sufficiently that we could waltz in and push them aside for all the choice leavings. Damned Russkis had a little too much backbone, though, and enough of them survived Stalingrad, etc., to be. . . ADVERSARIES of ours until Ronnie Reagan made it all better. But I guess this Vladimir Putin character has a bit too much spine as well, so back to Cold War II, maybe World War III. Can't wait. What do I care if my son and grandchildren inherit the wind?

      I remain appalled by people who despise Trump so much that they miss the implications of: a) believing anything that comes out of the mouths of the CIA, FBI, NSA, etc., particularly given their respective histories. I'm sure you've read THE DEVIL'S CHESSBOARD, yet you seem ready to trust the fairy tales being served up by the devil's disciples and offspring.

      I'm baffled, too, by those who think that getting rid of Trump will make things better. Try mouthing "President Pence," or "President Ryan." You might not think that would be worse, but I can assure you that it would be vastly more frightening, just as President Hillary Clinton would have been. Why is the "intelligence community" fighting so hard now to undermine our confidence that the election results were, while surprising, the outcome of the idiocy of the DNC, the unelectability of HRC, and the horrid campaign she ran? I have no use for Trump, but the current alternatives are worse, and keeping the focus of any meaningful resistance to him and his party on "Do over! The Russians hacked the election and Trump's people have connections to Russia" is idiotic. So does Hillary Clinton. But you can bet your life we wouldn't have heard about that from the CIA, et al., and probably not from you or the other bloggers and "reporters" who are so up in arms over Trump's alleged ties. The smokescreen just keeps getting thicker and thicker.

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    3. Oh for fuck's sake, I should have known. A Lefty libertarian. Jesus H. Christ, go away and quite wasting my time.

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    4. Good Afternoon Mr. Goldenberg! If you want a specific example of the adversarial nature of the modern relationship between our USA and Russia (it goes both ways), you should Google "NATO Missile Defense System." Not trying to argue any particular side there, but some think this project alone pushes the "adversary" closer to "enemy" in Russian eyes, and that we would be better off understanding that while engaging with them. This is just one geo-political example, as Jim says they qualify for the description in a variety of categories (as do we for them).

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    5. Totally agree Jim, someone from the peanut gallery always has to make disparaging comments. I thought it was well written and informative.

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    6. It's not about disparaging comments.

      He doesn’t like me, but I don’t take it personally. He doesn’t like anybody, including himself.

      He's being disingenuous. It only appears that he's attempting a conversation, he's really not. He's a Libertarian (the obviously false line about Trump and Clinton being equally terrible is the key). Nothing I say would ever measure up, even if I quoted his ideology directly. He is pathologically incapable of agreeing with anybody, even those he agrees with. Note how he started this: he couldn’t find anything big to argue about, so he started with a tiny nit over a definition. A ridiculous complaint on the face of it.

      But He didn’t care what my answer was, only that I answered – THEN he could angrily disagree and start in with his actual message: everything sucks, everybody is terrible. And you'll note the points he "disagrees" with in my essay I'd didn't actually say. And in point of fact have repeatedly said exactly the opposite.

      He does this, because he's mistaken his misery for intellect. He thinks he's smarter than all us poor suckers and he's got the inside scoop (note that last paragraph, only Goldenberg sees through the smokescreen. The rest of us are just dumb old dupes).

      He's not engaged in conversation, he’s just looking for a place to dump out his misery. He does this here, because very likely in real life people cross the street when they see him coming.

      Mr. Goldenberg's only real message is that he hates everybody. And the only difference between his fanaticism and a right-wing libertarian is that he can spell and form a sentence.

      I'm not going to entertain that bullshit here. He's done commenting.

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    7. Real left libertarians (who are otherwise known as cooperative anarchists) would object to the characterization of Mr. Goldenberg as libertarian. :-)

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    8. Libertarians always object to other Libertarians being identified as Libertarians. That's the defining criteria of Libertarians. As a political philosophy, Libertarianism most closely resembles a barn full of feral cats.

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    9. "A barn full of feral cats" read that and got the visual of the commercial with the cowboys trying to herd cats.......

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    10. Russia has viewed the West in general with paranoid hostility for centuries. When the USA became a world power, it got added to the enemies list. There are understandable historical reasons for this, but they don't change the fact of its existence. To pretend that Russian hostility towards the USA and Western Europe is some sort of CIA plot is loony.

      But then, claiming that Trump is less dangerous that Clinton would have been is pretty loony as well, so I guess it's consistent. Anyone who doesn't understand the degree of existential threat Trump and his incompetent minions pose to this country needs to get a grip on reality.

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    11. In terms of adversaries and definitions: The US has collected information on the 'private' communications of officials in the governments of NATO countries. Our NATO allies are some of our closest friends in the world. But they are not our satellites either. They have their own way of seeing the world and acting in it.

      France might be an ally, but if they aren't voting with us in the UN on a particular matter then in that matter at least they are slightly more adversary and slightly less ally. And just how far do you want to trust an alliance with a nation who sells its weaponry to its own enemies [to use Jim Wright's example] anyway?

      The ally-adversary-enemy is more of a spectrum than an either-or designation. And our Intelligence services have to act accordingly.

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    12. Russia has been an adversary, since President James Madison appointed John Quincy Adams as the first American Ambassador to Russia.

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    13. LOL. Raven Onthill!
      Real left libertarians, like me, come in at least a dozen different flavors including cooperative anarchists and short sighted anti-establishment types like Mr Goldenberg ( not seeing the difference between DJT and HRC's POV is pitiful and there aren't lenses strong enough to correct the phony history-of Russia-as US-adversary he props up his tirade with). Given the fractured state of LL, RL as well, I laughed at Mr Wright's barn full of feral cats but disagree that libertarianism is a political philosophy (which is a whole nother set of issues).


      That being said, I have to personally kinda sorta maybe agree with Mr Wright's assertion that "Libertarians always object to other Libertarians being identified as Libertarians. That's the defining criteria of Libertarians"
      Because purity-of-vision-for-utopia is highly prized among most right and left libertarians, folks do get their britches in a bunch far too often over who is "real". Oh, for the proverbial penny/nickel/dime for every anti-statist who has jumped up and down in my face over the years and called me a traitor to the cause and all that horseshit.

      Thanks for this essay Mr Wright. It is too bad making everyday sense of what and why is not nearly as exciting to so many folks as all the high intrigue crap coming out of the WH and too many other places right now.

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  30. Bravo! Well written by a true subject matter expert. Fascinating and terrifying at the same time.

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  31. I really appreciate you spelling this out for us and giving us greater insight into what's happening. I would like more of this in our media, but in the meantime, I'm grateful for your willingness to share knowledge.

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  32. This is how I have been feeling since this whole Russian thing started. I just want the investigation to go on. If something is found, we go to the next step (hearings). And whatever the outcome is I will accept it. This isn't a witch hunt. This is what we do. Was I happy about Hilary and her first hearing? No. But I accepted it as our government at work and if they found her guilty I was fine with the outcome. But that's the thing I want one or two hearings on this. Not the s-show that was put on during Hilary's time.

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  33. Great piece and sane explanation!

    Here is an investigative piece summing up the convoluted relations between Trump, his cabal and associates. The list is littered with informants, gangsters, Russian mobsters, a variety of shady characters and Russian oligarchs, including one on FBI's 10 most wanted list.

    The article is some 6200 words long but it will give you a clearer understanding of the connections between Russia and the US presidency and the long running monitoring of Trump and his entourage.

    http://whowhatwhy.org/2017/03/27/fbi-cant-tell-trump-russia/

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  34. An amazingly well written essay. No hyperbole. No politics. Just the facts presented in a way that makes them damn near impossible to argue with and gets people thinking. LOVE your examples. Spot on perfect.

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  35. Just like Forrest Gumps' mother, you explain complex issues you so that I can understand them. Thanks, Jim.

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  36. Thanks, Jim. Well written and clear as always. It's mind boggling just how fast everything has been shoved through the looking glass and we find ourselves in unprecedented territory - our POTUS tweeting from the head at 6:00 am as a starter!

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  37. You and Rachel Maddow....my go-to people to explain shit.

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  38. Thank you! I understand so much more now, and it actually makes sense. You are a beacon in the gathering darkness sir!

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  39. But Trump said in Time that no one knows what "incidental collection" is. He was very emphatic so I'm sure he's right.

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  40. I never fail to arrive at the end is one of these essays feeling slightly more educated than when I began.

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  41. "those committees are looking at in closed door sections" --> did you mean sessions?
    "So they let go" --> So they let you go
    "you’d up to something" not sure if you wanted you'd be up to something or you're up to something
    "you’re not interested that picture" -->you’re not interested in that picture

    Thank you for another great read.

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  42. Excellent essay, very informative, even might I say enlightening. Currently 49 comments and only one troll, are you losing your touch or are the trolls asleep ?

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  43. Famous Mom-ism all of our mothers probably told us on more than one occasion: "Don't hang around with the bad kids, and you won't get in trouble". 45 and his side show do it anyway, get in trouble, and it's somebody else's fault. Because alternative rules go splendidly with alternative facts.

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  44. A fine piece. Well explained and, as far as I am aware, painfully and painstakingly accurate.

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  45. Thanks for another good explanation of how all this stuff works.

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  46. The only thing I would add, is authorities might nip a quick note to the State Dept checking about the current list of registered Foreign Agents to see if Ex-general Whosits has done the right thing and notified the authorities of his intent to work for said country.

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  47. Amazing.

    I have never been part of the military or worked for intelligence agencies.

    I learned *all*, and I mean *all* of what you explained here from following discussions about what Edward Snowden did at Booz Allen.

    Disclosure: I *did* have the job of system administrator, at the Dutch Academic Supercomputer Facility.

    I hope this opens eyes - lots of them.

    Thanks.

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  48. Thank you very much for the explanation, Jim. Things make a bit more sense now, and I also think you are correct... there is no coincidence.

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  49. Thank you. It's helpful to hear how this information might have come to light. I try to keep my head out of the conspiracy rabbit hole. However, I think it's way more plausible that Roger Stone, and possibly Paul Manafort, colluded with the Russians, using Wikileaks as an intermediary to release the DNC emails, than that Pres Obama was born in Kenya, or that there's child trafficking going on in the basement of a pizza parlor that doesn't have a basement.
    Roger Stone always struck me as the kind of guy who would someday take his ratfcking over the line.

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  50. Gracias, senior. Muchas nachos y cervezas.

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  51. Have you seen this article on how bots and sockpuppets connected to the Russian government flooded and are still flooding our social media to sway opinion? It's a tech review of how it's done. Highly recommend. https://medium.com/data-for-democracy/sockpuppets-secessionists-and-breitbart-7171b1134cd5

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  52. "Joe Jesuspants"! You're killing me here!
    Great stuff as always. Thanks.
    April

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  53. I always think I have a pretty good grasp of an issue, then you write one of these essays.And I'm forced to consider the many different angles and shades and complexities of a given issue. You always seem to educate me on some different facet of an issue.Thank you.

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  54. “Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: 'Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action'.”
    ― Ian Fleming, Goldfinger

    Chief, I hereby nominate you as spokesmodel for the Radical Moderate party (moderate = reasonable, not extreme; radical = advocating thorough or complete political or social change – i.e., “let’s start approaching these problems with reason and logic, RIGHT NOW, FFS”)

    All kidding aside, we may very well need a new political party damn soon because, let’s face it: the Democratic party has gotten completely out of touch with its traditional base (and a fair amount of reality, truth be told), and the GOP’s love affair with outright fuckwittery has devolved into “whip me, beat me, c**e on my tits!”

    Thanks again for another solid article. And someone needs to let Trump know that his reality check is in the morning briefing, not the goddamn mail.

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  55. Thank you Jim! Excellent essay. I've known this information for a long time(when I was a lot younger and dumber I was the target of similar incidental collection, I learned fast). However, I've always had trouble explaining it to people in a way that made sense to them. You just gave me an excellent source to direct them to. Greatly appreciated. These essays you do are incredibly valuable. Thanks again for wading through the shit to accomplish what you do.

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  56. I collect bits of information (being a writer of fiction with a strong military component) from many sources: we call it research. Important bits come from the oddest places, and what finally brings a something into focus can be pure accident, whether it's a comment by a Prime Minister's teenage daughter while on a cruise with her father in a Royal Navy ship in the Med exactly at year before the outbreak of WWI (thank you, Violet Asquith, for noticing and writing down in your diary what the earplugs they gave you looked like), or staying up later than usual and catching a Charlie Rose interview with Erik Prince of Blackwater.

    Erik Prince has a very interesting background. Some years back, in that interview, he mentioned that he was seeking or had gotten (I forget, I'm over 70) a contract to take over the operation and data analysis from some US surveillance satellites. Since I knew something already of how Blackwater operated, I found this...troubling. Privatizing any military function has security risks; privatizing data collection and analysis to an organization that operates internationally and mostly outside US laws and controls? And so today, learning that he had brokered a back-channel connection between Putin and Trump...made perfect sense and was the answer to my persisting question about him...what exactly was he playing for?

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  57. May I post a link to this post for my students? I found it very informative, and I think they will too.

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  58. Was introduced to your writing during the Presidential election.
    It is so good to read intelligent ,thoughtful writing.
    Are you sure you don't want to be President ?

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  59. Bravo, says another member of the international intel community.

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  60. (Ask me about that time I watched Libyan forces armed with French weapons that they bought from the French attacking French forces defending Chad. The French love doing business with people who are trying to kill them. That’s capitalism, Folks. I digress).

    Possibly one of the greatest passages ever written. Thank you.

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  61. My question: if you're General War-Eagle, applicant for the job of National Security Advisor, shouldn't YOU understand incidental collection, and who are our adversaries, and be bright enough to put that information together and KNOW that lying about your communications with such an adversary is a bad idea?

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    1. Especially if General War-Eagle used to be head of DIA. Yeah, you'd think, wouldn't you?

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    2. 'and be bright enough'
      There is the fly in the logic ointment...

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    3. ... and if General War Eagle is taking money from foreign governments, isn't he in violation of his past service and shouldn't he be tried under the UCMJ ?

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  62. I believe I read somewhere (here, earlier?) that you appreciate typographic corrections even if they aren't necessary for the intelligibility of the piece. If so: where it says "sections" it probably means "sessions", and I suppose it should say that if you do slove that puzzle you may not be interested *in* it. If my recollection is wrong (your commenting rules were silent on the subject), my apologies.
    Re content: Nice summary, as usual. It occurs to me that the president has just made it legal for ISPs to collect and indefinitely keep much of this data and sell it to anyone they want. They absolutely do not purges that data, collect it indiscriminately on everyone and they are definitely also keeping tabs on him and apparently he thinks that's super. Or tremendous, or whatever.
    And it occurs to *me* that I don't have much in the way of getting around that if I want to stay in touch with my friends and colleagues in the US, that the EU hasn't been nearly hard enough on American ISPs data protection (or lack thereof) when they offer services here, and that overall it appears to have been a grievous mistake for the free Western World, European chapter, to rely on the US as an ally. But I digress.

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  63. At some point, and I think it's now, the list of Trump people with zero Russian connections is a lot easier to scribble than the list of Trump/Russians.

    Too true about the Patriot Act and wiretapping. I remember Cheney and Rumsfield's evil cackles over wiretapping made legal with that Act. They'd been working since Nixon on gaining that ability and its passing made their little black hearts so happy. They smirked for years afterward.

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  64. What is almost but not quite as disturbing as the current president's web of connections with the Putin is the number of supporters of the current president who not only aren't bothered by that web of connections, but who actively admire Putin for being a strong 'conservative' leader who seems, to them, to see the world the way they see it, and who are looking for a president who will rule this country in the same fashion that Putin rules Russia. It is an attitude that is so deeply anethema to everything the United States has always tried to represent, that not enough people are taking it seriously, or understanding where and how deeply it runs in the country. I believe that this presents a grave danger, at least as grave as the current president himself, and that we all need to do our best to drag that attitude out into the sunlight and show it up for what it is. When the current president failed to condemn, or even distance himself from, Putin, when it was pointed out that Putin has murdered scores of journalists and political adversaries, citizens of his own country, that was perhaps the most chilling moment yet of this sorry chapter of American history. The end of the chapter ain't been write yet, and some of us are feeling very nervous about where this sorry story may be going before it's done.

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    1. Many have pointed to Orwell's "1984" and Atwood's "A Handmaid's Tale" as being applicable to our times. I am beginning to hope that it just doesn't get to Miller's "Canticle for Leibowitz".

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    2. I sincerely doubt that Trump has any idea of what could happen if he plays bad boy with nukes. Maybe he's seen Mad Max. Maybe. I'm sure he thinks they are just slightly bigger bombs than conventional bombs, and if he drops some on N. Korea that's a problem only for the N. Koreans.

      Everyone right left and center knows very well the meaning of "garbage in garbage out". And then they go and vote for man whose every public pronouncement is little more than scrambled garbage. Or worse, understand that his thinking is little more than scrambled garbage, then sit home on their fat asses on polling day bitching about how Clinton isn't pure enough.

      When the deadly clouds start mushrooming we as a people will have no one but ourselves to blame.

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  65. This is probably the best write-up I've seen so far about the whys & wherefores of this clusterf#$%. Thank you Mr. Wright.

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  66. This writing looks like a ray of light in the darkness of the fake news surrounding us.

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  67. The FBI has been monitoring Trump Tower for 20 years. With good reason.

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  68. It's this kind of multi-layered, institutionalized paranoia among intelligence professionals that needs to be drained from the Washington swamp. This country does not need career intelligence officers, analysts, diplomats, researchers, etc. constantly seeing "adversaries" behind every bush (no pun intended) and trying to stay a few steps ahead of them.

    Lighten up people! Ivanka and Jared got this.

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  69. And it's banging crazy time again.

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