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Senior Vice-President for Research and Innovation, Professor of Theoretical Physics, Michigan State University

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Twilight Struggles in a Wilderness of Mirrors: Admiral Mike Rogers, the NSA, and Obama-era Political Spying


I believe that if the full story is told about Obama-era political spying, Admiral Mike Rogers (former head of NSA) will emerge as a hero. Sources say Rogers has been cooperating with the ongoing Durham investigation. Look for significant developments in the case as we approach the 2020 election...

Below is a Rogers timeline covering illegal spying using NSA data. This illegal use of data is a matter of record -- undisputed, but also largely unreported. The FISC (FISA court) report on this illegal use of data appeared in April 2017; the author is Rosemary Collyer, the head FISA judge. The report was originally classified Top Secret but was later declassified and released with redactions. Collyer uses the phrase "institutional lack of candor" when referring to behavior of federal agencies in their dealings with FISC over this issue.

Just this week, Collyer ordered the FBI to report on its abuse of FISA in surveillance of the Trump campaign, as documented in the Horowitz DOJ IG report.

More background on the earlier abuses here:
The court learned in October 2016 that analysts ... were conducting prohibited database searches “with much greater frequency than had previously been disclosed to the court.” The forbidden queries were searches of Upstream Data using US-person identifiers. The report makes clear that as of early 2017 NSA Inspector General did not even have a good handle on all the ways that improper queries could be made to the system.
Timeline:
November 2015-April 2016 – The FBI and DOJ’s National Security Division (NSD) uses private contractors to access raw FISA information using “To” and “From” FISA-702(16) & “About” FISA-702(17) queries.

February 2016 NYT reports: Obama Administration Set to Expand Sharing of Data That N.S.A. Intercepts "The new system would permit analysts at other intelligence agencies to obtain direct access to raw information from the N.S.A.’s surveillance to evaluate for themselves."

March 2016 – NSA Director Rogers becomes aware of improper access to raw FISA data.

April 2016 – Rogers orders the NSA compliance officer to run a full audit on 702 NSA compliance.

April 18 2016 – Rogers shuts down FBI/NSD contractor access to the FISA Search System.

Mid-October 2016 – DNI Clapper submits a recommendation to the White House that Director Rogers be removed from the NSA.

October 20 2016 – Rogers is briefed by the NSA compliance officer on the Section 702 NSA compliance audit and “About” query violations.

October 21 2016 – Rogers shuts down all “About Query” activity. Rogers reports the activity to DOJ and prepares to go before the FISA Court.

October 21 2016 – DOJ & FBI seek and receive a Title I FISA probable cause order authorizing electronic surveillance on Carter Page from the FISC. At this point, the FISA Court is unaware of the Section 702 violations.

October 24 2016 – Rogers verbally informs the FISA Court of Section 702(17) violations.

October 26 2016 – Rogers formally informs the FISA Court of 702(17) violations in writing.

November 17 2016 (morning) – Rogers travels to meet President-Elect Trump and his Transition Team in Trump Tower. Rogers does not inform DNI James Clapper.

November 17 2016 (evening) – Trump Transition Team announces they are moving all transition activity to Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey.
Parts of the timeline are from this 2018 article, which contains much more background. However, note that the events listed above are almost entirely a matter of public record now.

The 2017 FISC report does not reveal the exact nature of the abuses of NSA surveillance data, only that the abuses occurred, and in large volume. However, Rogers' behavior suggests very strongly that some of the abuses involved spying on political opposition.

Key issues:
Who were the FBI/DOJ contractors making the illegal queries? (Fusion GPS? Opposition research firms?)

Note that Upstream Data includes intercepts from the internet backbone -- essentially ALL of our communications pass through such channels and are potentially stored at NSA data centers.

Did FBI seek the Carter Page FISA warrant because earlier (illegal) access to NSA data was interrupted by Rogers?

What did Rogers reveal to the Trump transition team that caused them to move operations from Trump Tower to a golf course in New Jersey?

FBI had access not just to ongoing communications, but stored past communications (within "two hops") of Carter Page and other Trump campaign staff. They must have known very early on (it is suggested, by early 2017) that there was no Russian collusion. So what was the purpose of the Mueller investigation?
I believe Durham's investigation will be able to address many of these questions, although results may be classified and not shared with the public.

More fun facts: (Note I've always thought NSA the most competent and least political among CIA, FBI, NSA.)
James Clapper was the architect of the Russia Report – Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections. It was used to push the entire Russia Narrative...

The report was technically created by a joint effort between the CIA (former Director John Brennan), FBI (former Director James Comey) and the NSA (current Director Mike Rogers) – and assembled by the DNI (former Director James Clapper).

The joint report contains one significant caveat:

CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has only moderate confidence.

Rogers stated in Senate hearing testimony that his confidence did not reach even this threshold: "I wouldn’t call it a discrepancy, I’d call it an honest difference of opinion between three different organizations and in the end I made that call.…It didn’t have the same level of sourcing and the same level of multiple sources."

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