I recently wrote an updated post on the many FISA abuses uncovered by NSA Director Mike Rogers – and how DOJ’s National Security Division Head John Carlin intentionally hid these abuses from the FISA Court.
It’s highly improbable that DNI James Clapper did not know about the FISA Abuses as well.
One of the more significant revelations unearthed by Rogers was the FBI’s use of outside private contractors. For those already familiar – scroll down to section on Evelyn Farkas.
From the FISA Court Ruling (Page 83-84):
The FBI had disclosed raw FISA information, including but not limited to Section 702-acquired information, to a [Redacted].
[Redacted] is largely staffed by private contractors.
Contractors had access to raw FISA information on FBI storage systems.
Unrestricted access continued – after they completed work on an FBI request (Page 84-85):
Restrictions were not in place with regard to the [Redacted] contractors.
Access was not limited to raw information for which the FBI sought assistance.
Access continued even after they had completed work in response to an FBI request.
The FBI systematically enabled outside contractors to access raw FISA data – using the FBI’s systems as access points – across multiple Agencies (Page 87):
Improper access granted to the [Redacted] contractors seems to have been the result of deliberate decisionmaking.
Access to FBI systems was the subject of an interagency memorandum of understanding.
The FBI intentionally hid the implementation of this practice – and the practice itself – from the FISA Court until it was discovered in March 2016 (Page 87):
No notice of this practice was given to the FISC until 2016.
The government cannot say how, when or where non-compliant information was used. Once an individual had access to the information, it could no longer be traced or tracked (Page 82):
The NSA is unable to identify any reporting or other disseminations that may have been based on information returned by [these] non-compliant queries.
NSA’s disseminations are sourced to specific objects, not to the queries that may have presented those objects to the analyst.
Nearly five months after Director Rogers notified the Court, the government was still struggling to understand all points of raw FISA data access (Page 22):
The government reported that NSA was still attempting to identify all systems that store upstream data and all tools used to query such data.
Private contractors had full and unfettered access to raw FISA data. And no one could track what they did with that data.
None of this was an accident (Page 87):
The Court is concerned about the FBI’s apparent disregard of minimization rules and whether the FBI may be engaging in similar disclosures of raw Section 702 information that have not been reported.
This concern from the FISA Court applied specifically to the FBI – not the NSA. The FISA Court’s lack of trust in the FBI was apparent.
At this juncture, we don’t yet know the identities of these private contractors. But I’m guessing we shortly will.
Evelyn Farkas – On March 2, 2017, Obama’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Evelyn Farkas went on MSNBC. In the interview, Farkas detailed how the Obama Administration gathered and disseminated intelligence on the Trump Team:
I was urging my former colleagues, “Get as much information as you can. Get as much intelligence as you can” – before Obama leaves the Administration.
The Trump folks, if they found out how we knew what we knew about the Trump staff dealing with Russians, they would try to compromise those sources and methods, meaning we would no longer have access to that intelligence.
That’s why you have the leaking.
Note that Farkas said “how we knew” not “what we knew”. A crucial distinction.
On March 22, 2018, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte issued a subpoena to the DOJ. There was some intriguing information contained within (more here) but one question seemed particularly relevant to this discussion:
7. All documents and communications referring or relating to internal Department of Justice or FBI management requests to review, scrub, report on, or analyze any reporting of FISA collection involving, or coverage mentioning, the Trump Campaign of Trump Administration;
In effect, Goodlatte is inquiring after the sources and methods of surveillance intelligence Ms. Farkas is referring to.
Devin Nunes has already given us a basic understanding of what occurred.
Revisiting Nunes’ comments with knowledge of the FBI’s use of private contractors provides new levels of understanding. Some comments relate to the October 21 2016 Carter Page FISA Warrant. Other comments are specifically related to earlier collections.
Comments by Nunes are sequential:
I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions, the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.
Details about persons associated with the incoming administration, details with little apparent foreign intelligence value were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting.
The NSA has been very, very helpful. They know how important these programs are, they are in constant communication with our team.
I have spoke to Admiral Rogers about these concerns, and he wants to comply as quickly as he can.
From what I know right now, it looks like incidental collection. We don’t know exactly how that was picked up but we’re trying to get to the bottom of it.
I think the NSA’s going to comply. I am concerned – we don’t know whether or not the FBI is going to comply.
I have seen intelligence reports that clearly show the President-elect and his team were at least monitored and disseminated out in intelligence, in what appears to be raw—well I shouldn’t say raw—but intelligence reporting channels.
It looks to me like it was all legally collected, but it was essentially a lot of information on the President-elect and his transition team and what they were doing.
This information was legally brought to me by sources who thought that we should know about it.
This is normal incidental collection. It was normal foreign surveillance.
This appears to be all legally collected foreign intelligence under FISA, where there was incidental collection that then ended up in reporting channels and was widely disseminated.
We went through this about a year and a half ago as it related to members of Congress…it’s very similar to that, it reminds me of what happened a year and a half ago.
It’s official IC information. These were intelligence reports. It brings up a lot of concerns about whether things were properly minimized or not.
We don’t know who sent the taskings, if the taskings were changed into what went into these intelligence reports.
The President himself and others in the Trump transition team were clearly put into intelligence reports that ended up in this White House and across a whole bunch of other agencies.
There’s two issues here. There’s additional unmasking of names…I don’t know how many names were unmasked, but I know these additional unmaskings occurred. And then we have the additional issue of the names that were put into these intelligence reports.
I was able to determine that it looks like it was legal collection, incidental collection, that made its way into intelligence reports. It has to do with FISA, and there are multiple FISA warrants that are out there, but there’s nothing criminal at all involved.
On March 31, 2017 a Fox News report by Adam Housley cited numerous unnamed intelligence sources with direct knowledge of events:
We’ve learned that the surveillance that led to the unmasking started way before President Trump was even the GOP nominee. The person who did the unmasking, I’m told, is very well known, very high up, very senior in the intelligence world and is not in the FBI.
This led to other surveillance which led to multiple names being unmasked. Again these are private citizens in the United States.
We’re told that the main issue here is not only the unmasking of the names, but the spreading of names for political purposes that have nothing to do with national security and everything to do with hurting and embarrassing Trump and his team.
This is all coming from folks that are in these agencies and frustrated with the politics that is taking place in these agencies.
The FBI and the NSD didn’t need a wiretap. They already had multiple points of access in their systems. They just had to be willing to use these access points – or have someone else use them – to harvest the NSA upstream data.
The FISA Court ruling tells us they did this. It doesn’t tell us the targets.
We know from FISA Court documents that information was being gathered through illegal “About” queries – and had little or nothing to do with National Security. They were unauthorized, specifically related to U.S. persons and were the result of deliberate decision-making.
The FBI employed independent contractors – some to seemingly gather political opposition research using “About” queries from late 2015 through April 18, 2016.
Once the process had been stopped – and was now potentially exposed – the FBI & NSD decided what to do with the previously gathered information.
The idea of a Dossier was formulated. It provided three purposes.
- It became a repository of some of the information already gathered – and was augmented with information from Christopher Steele.
- It became a means to ultimately obtain legal permission for the previously illegal methods by which the information had been gathered.
- It allowed for the continuation of information gathering after Rogers shut Section 702 “About” searches down – through the FISA warrant on Carter Page.
The Steele Dossier became the repository of information gathered from illegal Section 702 searches while at the same time transforming that information into outside evidence that could be used in obtaining a FISA warrant to legitimize…the original information.
It became legal to maintain surveillance on the Trump Campaign using earlier data that originated with “incidental” capture of U.S. persons in the collection of data on non-U.S. persons.
The following timeline presents an evolution of events. A timeline of Rogers’ actions (dates bolded) is integrated with a broader timeline (dates unbolded):
- Late 2015 – Britain’s GCHQ begins to pass intelligence on to the U.S. – CIA Director John Brennan is point man.
- November 1 2015-April 18 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. These queries probably began earlier.
- Early March 2016 – Fusion approaches DNC law firm Perkins Coie about being hired to continue opposition research into the Trump Campaign.
- March 21 2016 – Carter Page joins the Trump Campaign as an advisor on foreign policy.
- March 28 2016 – Paul Manafort joins Trump Campaign as campaign convention manager.
- March 2016 – NSA Director Rogers becomes aware of improper access to raw FISA data.
- April 2016 – Brennan is shown information from Baltic State Intelligence Agency.
- April-June 2016 – Information flow from British Intelligence Agencies to CIA continues.
- April 2016 – Rogers orders the NSA compliance officer to run a full audit on 702 NSA compliance.
- April 2016 – Fusion GPS hired by Perkins Coie on behalf of the DNC.
- April 18 2016 -Rogers shuts down FBI/NSD contractor access to the FISA Search System.
- April 19 2016 – Wife of Glenn Simpson (Fusion GPS) Mary Jacoby visits White House – the day after Rogers shuts Contractor access down.
- April 25 2016 – Two WH meetings between FBI Counsel James Baker, Trisha B Anderson (FBI), Tashina Guahar( DOJ), John T Lynch (DOJ), John (Brad) Wiegmann (DOJ), Alan Rozenshtein (DOJ), Norman (Christopher) Hardee (DOJ), and Iris Lan (DOJ). DOJ attorneys Guahar, Hardee, Wiegmann are FISA attorneys. Note: Meeting link now broken. Cannot locate secondary source. Treat accordingly.
- April 30 2016 – DNC IT staff reports suspected hacking on its server(s) to FBI but refuses to grant FBI access.
- April/May 2016 – Fusion GPS hires Christopher Steele.
- April/May 2016 – Fusion GPS hires Nellie Ohr, wife of DOJ Assoc. Deputy AG Bruce Ohr.
- May/June 2016 – Brennan creates a six-agency task force to investigate Russian Interference.
- May 23 2016 – Nellie Ohr applies for a HAM Radio license. Make of this what you will.
- Early Summer (probably June) 2016 – Brennan is briefed in-person by GCHQ’s then-head, Robert Hannigan, on information in the possession of British Intelligence.
- June 2016 – Brennan passes his intelligence to the FBI. This intelligence “served as the basis for the FBI investigation”.
- June 2016 – Possible FISA Application prepared by NSD lawyers.
- June 2016 – FBI Agent Peter Strzok – and possibly DOJ’s Bruce Ohr – meet with Christopher Steel.
- June 9 2016 – Meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Rinat Akhmetshin and Natalia Veselnitskaya. Fusion’s Simpson meets with Veselnitskaya before and after meeting.
- June 27 2016 – AG Loretta Lynch has secret meeting with Bill Clinton on tarmac.
- Late June 2016 – First draft of Trump Dossier shared w/Fusion & possibly FBI’s Strzok.
- July 1 2016 – Victoria Nuland grants permission for FBI Agent Mike Gaeta to meet with Steele in London.
- July 2 2016 – FBI Agent Strzok interviews Hillary Clinton.
- July 5 2016 – FBI Agent Gaeta meets with Steele in London – is given copy of Dossier.
- July 5 2016 – FBI Director Comey exonerates Clinton.
- Mid July 2016 – Steele Dossier shared with State Department’s Nuland. Dossier is passed on to FBI.
- July 24 2016 – Clinton Campaign manager Robbie Mook suggests Russian Government is behind release of DNC emails.
- July 31 2016 – FBI begins counter-intelligence investigation into Russia and Trump.
- Late July – Second draft of Steele Dossier shared with FBI.
- Late July/Early August 2016 – Brennan briefs Obama and three senior Obama Advisors.
- August 1 2016 – Strzok travels to London for interviews w/unknown.
- August 15 2016 – Strzok sends “insurance policy” text referencing Deputy FBI Director McCabe.
- August/September 2016 – CIA Director Brennan meets with Gang of Eight suggesting Russia is helping Trump.
- September 5 2016 – Hillary Clinton accuses Russia of interfering with U.S. election.
- Mid/Late September 2016 – Brennan, Clapper and Comey begin work on three Russian Interference reports.
- September 23 2016 – A Yahoo News article is published by Michael Isikoff based on leaks by Christopher Steele. The article is later used to corroborate the Steele Dossier.
- September 26 2016 – DOJ’s NSD Head John Carlin files the Government’s proposed 2016 Section 702 certifications. Carlin does not disclose the FISA Abuse in his filing. Carlin has been aware of Rogers’ compliance review.
- September 27 2016 – Carlin announces he is resigning. Mary McCord will later assume his position.
- September 28 2016 – Comey claims decision to exonerate Clinton was not made until after her interview with FBI agents.
- September 28 2016 – Comey refuses to answer if FBI is investigating possible connections between members of the Trump campaign and Russia.
- Late September/Early October 2016 – DOJ’s Bruce Ohr provides the FBI with his wife’s opposition research – paid for by the DNC and Clinton campaign via Fusion GPS.
- Late September/Mid-October 2016 – Trump Dossier shopped.
- Early October 2016 – Bruce Ohr meets with Dossier author Christopher Steele.
- Early October 2016 – Bruce Ohr meets with Glenn Simpson (Fusion GPS).
- October 7 2016 – DNI James Clapper officially accuses the Russian government of hacking the DNC “to interfere with the US election process.”
- October 15, 2016 – Carlin formally leaves the NSD.
- Mid-October 2016 – DNI Clapper submits recommendation to White House that Director Rogers be removed from the NSA.
- October 20 2016 – Rogers is briefed by NSA compliance officer on 702 NSA compliance audit and “About” query violations.
- October 21 2016 – Rogers shuts down all “About Query” activity. Reports activity to DOJ and prepares to go before 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.
- November 28 2016 – Sen. McCain associate David Kramer flies to London to meet Christopher Steele for a briefing on the anti-Trump research.
- December 9 2016 – Brennan provides CIA Assessment to Obama – Russia conducted hacking operations to prevent Hillary Clinton from winning presidency.
- December 9 2016 – Obama orders a full review of Russian-election hacking.
- December 15 2016 – James Clapper signs off on Executive Order 12333 changes impacting the NSA – Obama’s NSA Data-Sharing Order.
- December 29, 2016 – Second Report – GRIZZLY STEPPE – Russian Malicious Cyber Activity – is released.
- January 3 2017 – Loretta Lynch signs Section 2.3 of Executive Order 12333 – Obama’s NSA Data-Sharing Order.
- January 5 2017 – Clapper and Rogers testify before Senate Armed Services Committee. Clapper reaffirms his belief that Russians hacked the election.
- January 5 2017 – Obama, James Comey, AG Sally Yates, Joe Biden and Susan Rice have follow-on conversation after briefing by IC leadership (Clapper & Brennan – possibly Comey) on Russian hacking during 2016 election. Rice will document this meeting in an email to herself on January 20, 2017.
- January 6, 2017 – Third report – Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections – is released.
- January 6 2017 – Comey briefs President-Elect Trump on existence of “salacious and unverified” Russian “Dossier”.
- January 6 2017 – Within hours of Comey’s meeting with Trump, the Trump/Comey meeting and the existence of the Dossier was leaked (James Clapper named as possible leaker).
- January 10 2017 – U.S. intelligence chiefs Comey, Clapper, Brennan, Rogers brief Obama on Russian “Dossier” and attempts to “influence” Trump.
- January 12 2017 – The DOJ’s Office of Inspector General announces initiation of a review into actions taken by the DOJ and FBI in advance of the 2016 election.
This timeline is intentionally abbreviated – although it probably doesn’t seem so. For a broader timeline see here.