But what if Donald Trump wasn’t the first or only target of an Obama White House campaign of spying and illegal leaks directed at domestic political opponents?Read more here.
In a December 29, 2015 article, The Wall Street Journal described how the Obama administration had conducted surveillance on Israeli officials to understand how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials, like Ambassador Ron Dermer, intended to fight the Iran Deal. The Journal reported that the targeting “also swept up the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups.”
Despite this reporting, it seemed inconceivable at the time that—given myriad legal, ethical, political, and historical concerns, as well as strict National Security Agency protocols that protect the identity of American names caught in intercepts—the Obama White House would have actually spied on American citizens. In a December 31, 2016, Tablet article on the controversy, “Why the White House Wanted Congress to Think It Was Being Spied on By the NSA,” I argued that the Obama administration had merely used the appearance of spying on American lawmakers to corner opponents of the Iran Deal. Spying on U.S. citizens would be a clear abuse of the foreign-intelligence surveillance system. It would be a felony offense to leak the names of U.S. citizens to the press.
Increasingly, I believe that my conclusion in that piece was wrong. I believe the spying was real and that it was done not in an effort to keep the country safe from threats—but in order to help the White House fight their domestic political opponents.
“At some point, the administration weaponized the NSA’s legitimate monitoring of communications of foreign officials to stay one step ahead of domestic political opponents,” says a pro-Israel political operative who was deeply involved in the day-to-day fight over the Iran Deal. “The NSA’s collections of foreigners became a means of gathering real-time intelligence on Americans engaged in perfectly legitimate political activism—activism, due to the nature of the issue, that naturally involved conversations with foreigners. We began to notice the White House was responding immediately, sometimes within 24 hours, to specific conversations we were having. At first, we thought it was a coincidence being amplified by our own paranoia. After a while, it simply became our working assumption that we were being spied on.”
This is what systematic abuse of foreign-intelligence collection for domestic political purposes looks like: Intelligence collected on Americans, lawmakers, and figures in the pro-Israel community was fed back to the Obama White House as part of its political operations. The administration got the drop on its opponents by using classified information, which it then used to draw up its own game plan to block and freeze those on the other side. And—with the help of certain journalists whose stories (and thus careers) depend on high-level access—terrorize them.
Once you understand how this may have worked, it becomes easier to comprehend why and how we keep being fed daily treats of Trump’s nefarious Russia ties. The issue this time isn’t Israel, but Russia, yet the basic contours may very well be the same.
...What we know so far is that Obama administration officials unmasked the identity of one Trump team member, Michael Flynn, and leaked his name to the Washington Post’s David Ignatius.
...exposing Flynn’s name in the intercept for political purposes was an abuse of the national-security apparatus, and leaking it to the press is a crime.
This is familiar territory. In spying on the representatives of the American people and members of the pro-Israel community, the Obama administration learned how far it could go in manipulating the foreign-intelligence surveillance apparatus for its own domestic political advantage. In both instances, the ostensible targets—Israel and Russia—were simply instruments used to go after the real targets at home.
...The Obama administration would be less interested in what the Israelis were doing than in the actions of those who actually had the ability to block the deal—namely, Senate and House members. The administration then fed this information to members of the press, who were happy to relay thinly veiled anti-Semitic conceits by accusing deal opponents of dual loyalty and being in the pay of foreign interests.
...It didn’t take much imagination for members of Congress to imagine their names being inserted in the Iran deal echo chamber’s boilerplate—that they were beholden to “donors” and “foreign lobbies.” What would happen if the White House leaked your phone call with the Israeli ambassador to a friendly reporter, and you were then profiled as betraying the interests of your constituents and the security of your nation to a foreign power? What if the fact of your phone call appeared under the byline of a famous columnist friendly to the Obama administration, say, in a major national publication?
To make its case for the Iran Deal, the Obama administration redefined America’s pro-Israel community as agents of Israel. They did something similar with Trump and the Russians—whereby every Russian with money was defined as an agent of the state. Where the Israeli ambassador once was poison, now the Russian ambassador is the kiss of death—a phone call with him led to Flynn’s departure from the White House and a meeting with him landed Attorney General Jeff Sessions in hot water.
...The point of distributing the information so widely was to “preserve it,” the administration and its friends in the press explained—“preserve” being a euphemism for “leak.” The Obama team seems not to have understood that in proliferating that material they have exposed themselves to risk, by creating a potential criminal trail that may expose systematic abuse of foreign-intelligence collection.
Wednesday, April 05, 2017
"The issue this time isn’t Israel, but Russia, yet the basic contours may very well be the same." ...“preserve” being a euphemism for “leak.”
Lee Smith writes at The Tablet,