WASHINGTON, DC – Like many of the scandals and controversies involving President Trump, it all started with a tweet. Last Saturday, Trump made a daring accusation against his predecessor Barack Obama, accusing Obama of wiretapping his campaign headquarters in Trump Tower in the months prior to the contentious 2016 election. While the former president and his staffers denied the allegations, others focused instead on their feasibility, asking – even if Obama wanted to wiretap Trump, could he?
Among those arguing that the president does not have the authority to tap a private citizen was Ben Rhodes, a former senior adviser to Obama and former deputy National Security Advisor. Rhodes tweeted: “No President can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you.”
However, Rhodes’ argument was quickly proven wrong, as Chapter 36 of Title 50 of the U.S. Code on War and National Defense reads: “Notwithstanding any other law, the President, through the Attorney General, may authorize electronic surveillance without a court order under this sub-chapter to acquire foreign intelligence information for periods of up to one year […]”
Obama’s denial of ordering the tap did not rule out the existence of wiretaps already in place at Trump during in the months prior to the election. It may be possible that an intelligence agency may have ordered the tap, as many intelligence community surveillance practices are simply unknown. As the Washington Post noted, these “practices remain so secret, even from members of Congress, that there is no opportunity for our democracy to change them.”
Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) noted that Trump’s accusations suggest two possible scenarios. If there were wiretaps of Trump’s organization or campaign, then it was either with FISA [U.S. Foreign Intelligence Services Court] court authorization or without such authorization. If without, the president should explain what sort of wiretap it was and how he knows this. It is possible that he was illegally tapped. On the other hand, if it was with a legal FISA court order, then an application for surveillance exists that the court found credible.
FISA: Facilitating Surveillance Since 1978
Though Obama could have ordered the wiretap without a court order, recent evidence seems to suggest that it was approved by a FISA court. Some have pointed to this as proof that the court must have had good reason, or at least proof of a crime on Trump’s part. However, FISA’s past actions indicate that it may not have had such proof.
FISA, established in 1978 under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is intended to oversee surveillance requests issued against suspected foreign spies allegedly operating within the U.S. Eleven federal judges serve on the notoriously secretive court on a rotating basis, typically with one presiding per week. The appointment of federal judges to FISA is not subject to congressional approval and, interestingly, all current FISA judges were appointed by Obama.
In addition, the little we do know about FISA’s actions suggest it to be very willing to support surveillance requests, regardless of their legality. For instance, one of the few FISA court orders to be made public – courtesy of Edward Snowden – revealed that the court approved the mass collection of the metadata of U.S. citizens from telecommunications and technology corporations, including Verizon, Apple, Google and Microsoft. Though the program was ended by Congress, it was approved by FISA for a second time in 2015.
Equally telling is FISA’s tendency to approve nearly any and all government surveillance requests. From 2009 to 2015, only two of more than 10,000 applications for electronic surveillance were denied. George Washington Law School professor and longtime FISA critic Jonathan Turley told ABC News that “FISA was designed more to facilitate than to limit surveillance. It adopted a standard that was heavily weighted toward approval. You almost have to work to find a way to get turned down by a FISA court.”
Trump Tower’s Private Server Controversy – UMBRAGE’s first “false flag”?
But the most scandalous aspects of the alleged Trump tap have little to do with their FISA approval, but rather who signed off on them and with what justification. Loretta Lynch, as attorney general under Obama, signed off on all FISA requests issues last year.
Lynch, who recently made a video apparently calling for violent opposition to the Trump administration, signed off on the first FISA request last June, around the same time she controversially met with Bill Clinton in Phoenix – a meeting she later called “regrettable.” Despite the ease with which most FISA requests were approved, this one was denied. Based on the FISA’s rate of approval, the probability of this happening is around 0.02 percent. If Trump was in fact tapped, there have to have been new evidence to convince FISA to approve the request.
Reports from last year indicate that such evidence conveniently appeared in late July of 2016. As Slate reported, prominent computer scientists stumbled upon what they – at first – thought was malware emanating from Russia. The destination domain, Trump-Email.com, aroused suspicion due to its mention of the Republican candidate who, incidentally enough, had been recently accused of colluding with Russia. However, the malware wasn’t found to be connected to the Russian government, but to two Russian banks – Alfa Bank and SVB Bank .
Eventually, these scientists found that this suspected malware wasn’t malware after all, but instead proof that secretive communications were taking place. The suggestion was made that these communications were potential proof of the Trump campaign colluding with Russia, or at the very least, could provide probable cause for possible illegal banking activity.
Some of the computer scientists said the logs were probably authentic, as they would be incredibly difficult to fake due to the thousands of records that they contained. According to various reports, it was this “proof” that led to FISA’s approval for a wiretap in Trump Tower last October.
Even when the FBI found nothing suspect regarding Russia ties at Trump campaign headquarters once the request was granted, the investigation stayed open anyway. As Andrew McCarthy of the National Review noted: “someone at the FBI initially had concerns that banking laws were being violated, but when the bureau looked into it, investigators found no crimes were being committed. Rather than drop the matter for lack of evidence of criminal offenses, the Justice Department and FBI pursued it as a national security investigation.”
The convenient emergence of this initial proof of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian entities may have been “too convenient” after all. Though it was barely covered by the media at the time, proof emerged that the domain Trump-email.com was not registered to Trump at all, but to Emily McMullin, sister of “independent” presidential candidate Evan McMullin.
Evan McMullin is a former CIA agent who chose to run for President with the express purpose of damaging Trump’s chances, particularly in Utah. McMullin also took every opportunity to criticize Trump’s “soft” stance on Russian leadership. Not surprisingly, McMullin recently re-emerged to call the wiretapping accusations “fantasy.”
The most recent revelations from Wikileaks regarding the true extent of the CIA’s covert hacking abilities have created even greater reason to suspect that the CIA was involved in the approval of the October FISA surveillance request targeting Trump’s campaign headquarters. As MintPress previously reported, Wikileaks’ latest release exposed the CIA’s UMBRAGE program – which allows the CIA to hide the digital signatures left behind when it conducts cyberattacks, replacing them with signatures that can be attributed to other entities, including state actors.
Wikileaks explicitly mentioned the Russian Federation as one of the governments whose signature had been stolen by the UMBRAGE program, meaning the CIA could make any of its cyberattacks or malware programs appear to be originating from Russia.
This is more than enough to rouse suspicion that the CIA was involved in either creating or planting this evidence on Trump Tower’s private servers. Indeed, the October request for surveillance also coincided with the Wikileaks release of the now-infamous Podesta emails, which had the Clinton campaign scrambling and blaming Russia for the emails’ damaging content.
In addition, the former leadership of the U.S. intelligence community – by this time – had come out in support of Clinton, with some calling Trump “incoherent” and “erratic.” With the CIA’s proven capability for conducting covert cyberattacks that can leave false Russian fingerprints, it begs the question – was the evidence used to justify the wiretapping of Trump Tower UMBRAGE’s first “false flag”?
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This BBSNews article originally appeared on MintPress News.