No Washington establishment — especially the party in power — took Donald Trump seriously as a presidential candidate. Accordingly, the early decisions made in the imbedded intelligence bureaucracies — often called the “deep state” — were clearly made with the assumption that there would never be any review or accountability.
We can see this assumption demonstrated blatantly in the emails between James Comey’s senior staffers at the FBI, now mostly fired, resigned or reassigned. The point is probably best made by asking: Would we have ever seen these had Hillary Clinton won?
Next, we have a rather obvious intelligence community “bent” on at least an assumption that they could regard Mr. Trump’s admittedly amateurish campaign “organization” as a vehicle for collecting intelligence on the extent to which they were connecting with foreign targets of interest.
And, in this respect, it’s clear that many of the kids in Mr. Trump’s organization — like George Papadopoulos — were clueless about how the intelligence community goes about its “business.”
Would they have also focused on the Clinton campaign people talking with foreign targets? Very unlikely for obvious political reasons. Also, the Clinton campaign folks would be much more sensitive to the realization that they might be “picked up” so they would be far more careful about what they said.
After all, this was, as they say, not a “new rodeo” for the Clintons: I led the SSCI staff investigation into the extensive Chinese efforts to influence — mostly with money to the Clinton campaign — the 1996 election. There was no doubt of the substantial Chinese involvement and focus on developing influence in the Clinton administration.
Accordingly, two good questions remain: How many of the destroyed/missing Hillary Clinton emails had to do with this very same practice? And, wouldn’t the NSA have had access to those that involved foreign contacts?
The Trump people, on the other hand, appeared not to be near this politically sophisticated. Obviously, no one had “sat them down” and told them of the realities and risks of talking to foreign officials, especially Russians.
And, in partial defense of the rookie Trump campaign staffers, even congressmen — in my experience — don’t always realize when they talk to a foreign interest that someone “might be listening.” The example I always used with them was to imagine talking to someone with even a casual connection to the Mafia — for sure there would be a wiretap.
So, we probably have the Obama intelligence community focused on the Trump campaign early on for two reasons: First, they offered a much “richer” target set and second, they were naive when it came to who they dealt with and what they said to them.
Then, we have the disturbing upward trends in the “unmasking” requests by various senior political appointees in the Obama administration. This as more contacts between foreign officials and the rookie Trump campaign people were discovered, the more the intelligence community focus concentrated on them.
Was the Trump organization itself “wiretapped”? Probably not as such, because it wasn’t necessary — it was likely easier to get information by targeting foreign officials and then simply “unmasking” the “take” to identify the various Trump rookies on the other end.
However, and probably based on the take from these operations, it is reported that some of the Trump organization seniors were themselves targeted by specific FISA surveillances — as “agents of foreign powers” — however, with similar abuses of the “unmasking” process.
These operations puzzle many intelligence professionals because of the apparent naivete of even these senior people — but like congressmen who can also “come up on the net” — they seemed clueless. However, and to again demonstrate the political bias contained in these operations, the FISA “takes” were evidently also “unmasked” and shared with high-level political Obama appointees, as requested by them.
So, one must objectively ask: Do these patterns prove the political polarization of the “intelligence process,” at least during the last year of the Obama administration — and even after the election — as many of these practices continued during the “transition” period?
To perhaps confirm this conclusion, the director of national intelligence and the attorney general issued new official procedures — after the election and before Mr. Trump’s inauguration — that increased the categories of people with access to “raw SIGINT,” the material which often disclosed the identities of “U.S. persons” and before their identities were “masked” pursuant to “minimization procedures.”
These new procedures also vastly increased the likelihood of leaks.
In this context, one should ask why the director of national intelligence and the attorney general felt it necessary to make such radical changes in the access to some of the most sensitive information collected by the intelligence ccommunity — especially just after an election and just before inauguration of a new president?
Finally, there is the reported use of FBI insiders or “moles.” Did this begin in the early stages of the Trump campaign as a “routine” operation designed to learn the extent, if any, of foreign influence in our political campaigns? If so, were there “moles” in the Clinton campaign?
The very idea of an FBI source planted inside of a presidential political campaign seems a clear abuse — if not a direct violation — of long-standing FBI procedures. Accordingly, we can assume that such an operation would have had — at very least — the specific approval of FBI Director Comey and/or Attorney General Lynch.
• Daniel Gallington served as deputy counsel for intelligence policy at the Department of Justice and as bipartisan General Counsel for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.