This morning's Twitter Rampage from Big Giant Leader
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.