So the Carter Page FISA application and subsequent renewals were released in massively redacted form today. Like any redacted document it is difficult, if not impossible, to know what, precisely, the FBI based its application on but there are some pretty solid hints:
- The whole thing got rolling as the result of a concern at the John Kerry State Department which was transmitted to the FBI. Rumour had reached State that The Donald might have ties to Russians. (No actual evidence, but rumour is what diplomats deal in.)
- There was a dossier compiled by a trusted (albeit by the second renewal, fired) FBI informant – pretty quickly identified as British spook Christopher Steele suggesting that at least one Trump operative was communicating with Russian “sanctioned persons”. That operative was former FBI asset Carter Page now identified as a agent of foreign influence.
- There were media reports that the Trump campaign was in communication with the Russians.
This, despite a lack of actual verification, was enough for the FISA judge and the surveillance of Carter Page and, of course, people who were one, or even two hops, from him was begun and continued.
All of this pretty much comports with the story which has been emerging from the Congressional Committees charged with the oversight of US intelligence operations.
This would be the shenanigans I referred to earlier. The whole point of the FISA process is to demand, ex parte, at least probable cause for believing that a US Person was, in fact, acting as an agent of a foreign government. If FISA worked that probable cause would require actual evidence.
Rumour – even from the State Department – is not evidence. It might be a basis upon which to look for evidence but, in itself, it is simply rumour.
A dossier, prepared by a non-American based on reports from secondary Russian sources is not evidence. It is hearsay of a pretty pungent sort. Perhaps good enough for informal counter-intelligence work but hardly the stuff warrants are made of.
Media reports don’t even make it to hearsay. Especially given that the sources of the rumours the media were reporting would appear to have been Mr. Steele, his handlers and the FBI.
In fact, it would appear that the Obama administration through State and, probably, the CIA, manufactured a confection of innuendo which managed to fool no less than four FISA judges. (Which says a lot about the necessity of reforming the FISA process beginning with actually inviting the existing FISA cleared privacy attorneys to participate in the process to test the evidence and prevent this sort of abuse.)
Carter Page was obviously not the target. If he had been he would have been charged by this point.
So what was the target?
The answer seems to be having legal cover for a systematic program of spying on the Trump campaign. Trump was ridiculed for claiming his campaign had been “wiretapped”. It probably was not “wiretapped” in the fine old tradition of the FBI. However, it was certainly surveilled using Page as the pretext.
To what end? Now that is an open question at this point. It might have been that Obama and his gunsels were curious about Trump’s weird and, obviously, losing campaign. Or it might have been that there was a genuine belief that Trump had, somehow, been instrumental in hacking the DNC server and Podesta’s email account and that this needed to be investigated. After all, Trump said on stage that if the Russians had the emails he’d like to see them, or something like that. It was obviously a joke but liberals have a very literal sense of humour – if they have any at all.
But my own sense is that the concern was very much deeper. By the time Trump came down the escalator, the Obama Administration was well aware that Hilly had run her own server and her own private communications network. Obama himself had sent emails to that server. The Administration was also aware that the DNC server had been hacked (or, more neutrally, compromised) and they were, not unrealistically, concerned about what might have been taken from either server.
The Obama Administration would have had a pretty clear idea of what had been on both the Clinton server and the DNC server. There is all sorts of speculation as to what Hilly had to hide (“deliver the pallet of cash to Bill’s apartment”) but that may not have been the primary, national security, concern.
Servers receive information, they are also the point from which queries to databases are initiated.
We know that several people and entities – including Fusion GPS, the people who hired Christopher Steele – had been granted independent contractor’s access to the NSA databases which enabled them to conduct searches of particular persons. (Why the NSA would permit this is a question which should be asked and answered tout suite.) Could that same access have been granted to Secretary Clinton and, more troublingly, to the DNC?
The Clinton server was wiped, perhaps with a cloth, certainly with BleachBit, as soon as questions were raised about Hilly’s emails. (Phones, laptops and other computers were destroyed with the FBI’s co-operation as soon as the questions were raised. Poor Anthony Weiner didn’t get the memo and probably didn’t know that along with the kiddie porn he had Hilly’s emails (and likely some more interesting stuff) on his laptop – which is now imaged and waiting for analysis.)) The DNC refused to let the FBI look at its server and had private third-party Crowdstrike certify that the “break-in” was done by those darned Russians.
Hiding the servers suggests that there were things on the servers which shouldn’t have been. But now the servers are gone. Dead end?
Probably not. If there is one thing the NSA is good at it is logging who is querying its databases. It should have the IP of any computer which sent a query. While Hilly’s server may be in Bleachbit heaven there are very good records of every IP it ever operated on. The NSA is set up to do “About” queries.
This is only going to get more interesting.