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An American Cyber-Column By Rich Galen
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Courting FISA

Rich Galen

Monday March 6, 2017

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  • There is a special federal court which deals with requests for surveillance and searches by the government with national security implications.

  • According to its web page:
    The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was established in 1978 when Congress enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

    [T]he Court entertains applications submitted by the United States Government for approval of electronic surveillance, physical search, and other investigative actions for foreign intelligence purposes.

  • For those who might have been off camping on a different planet this past weekend, Donald Trump learned, apparently from Conservative radio talk show host Mark Levin and Brietbart.com that Trump Tower had been wiretapped by the Feds during the 2016 campaign.

  • In a series of Tweets on early Saturday morning, President Trump said that Barack Obama had ordered the wiretaps.
    Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!

  • It is not clear that former President Barack Obama would have known anything about it and, even if he did, it is unlikely - maybe illegal - for Obama to have ordered such surveillance. If he had done something like that it would have leaked in about a nano-second.

  • Even if it is true that an application by an qualified agency (NSA, FBI, or a similarly empowered organization) was approved by the FISA Court that doesn't mean that Donald Trump or his official campaign operation was the target.

  • According to the Trump Organization's own webpage describing Trump Tower:
    The first 26 floors are comprised of luxury offices, providing world class services to Trump Tower's commercial tenants.

    Floors 30 through 68 are considered one of the world's elite luxury residences, catering to public figures, athletes, celebrities and other affluent sophisticates.

  • So, there are plenty of people and organizations in the building without the name "Trump" attached who might have been the target.

  • In a review of the situation, the National Review's Andrew McCarthy writes:
    FISA national-security investigations are not like criminal investigations. They are more like covert intelligence operations - which presidents personally sign off on. The intention is not to build a criminal case; it is to gather information about what foreign powers are up, particularly on U.S. soil.

  • It is not clear to me that Presidents typically sign off on FISA warrant requests, although a request to surveil anyone in Trump Tower would likely have come to the attention of the most senior officers of the agency asking for it.

  • Like most issues which contain the five letters "Trump," even without any independent information most people have chosen up sides.

  • On the Pro-Trump side: It was an Obama-sponsored effort to offset the damage done to Hillary Clinton's campaign by the whole personal-server-lost-emails-hacked-DNC-stolen-John-Podesta email thing. The most effective way to accomplish that would be to indict someone on Trump-world for illegal contact with Russian people and/or entities.

  • There is an old saying in politics: "The best pollical attack is a third-party attack. The best third-party attack is a grand jury."

  • On the Anti-Obama side: It never happened. And, if it did happen, it was totally within established practice and followed all applicable procedures.

  • The week was interesting:
    Monday: Kellyanne Conway is photographed in an unfortunate position, kneeling on the couch in the Oval Office.

    Tuesday: Trump scores big with his speech to the Joint Session of Congress

    Wednesday: Leaks to the NY Times and Washington Post about previously unknown contacts between Trump campaign people and surrogates including Jared Kushner and Attorney General Jeff Sessions who denied any such contacts in his confirmation hearing.

    Thursday: Press Secretary Sean Spicer defends Sessions' appearance before the Senate committee, saying the AG was "100 percent straight" in his answers. About three hours later Sessions announced he would recuse himself from investigations dealing with the campaign which led to …

    Friday: President Trump reportedly "going ballistic" in an Oval Office meeting with his senior staff because he hadn't known Sessions was going to do that. Someone had to have leaked that directly out of the Executive Office of the President.

    Saturday: Breitbart's and Levin's allegations about wiretapping Trump Tower explode like the morning sun on Palm Beach in a series of Tweets from President Trump. The Breitbart article has a pretty specific timeline. If it's true, someone with knowledge of the warrants leaked it to them.

  • Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was your week?

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the FISA Court's webpage (that will lead you to a 15-page letter that explains in great detail its operations), to the Breitbart piece (which is worth reading if only for the timeline), and to the National Review article.

    The Mullfoto is very special. It is The Lad and me in full battle dress for Saturday Night's Gridiron Dinner in Washington - cleverly juxtaposed with the "Puttin' on the Ritz" scene from "Young Frankenstein."

    -- END --

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