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Did the Obama Administration’s Abuse of Foreign-Intelligence Collection Start Before Trump?

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One clue: The Russia story is a replay of how the former White House smeared pro-Israel activists in the lead-up to the Iran Deal.

Lee Smith writes: The accusation that the Obama administration used information gleaned from classified foreign surveillance to smear and blackmail its political opponents at home has gained new traction in recent days, after reports that former National Security Adviser Susan Rice may have been rifling through classified transcripts for over a year that could have included information about Donald Trump and his associates. While using resources that are supposed to keep Americans safe from terrorism for other purposes may be a dereliction of duty, it is no more of a crime than spending all day on Twitter instead of doing your job. The crime here would be if she leaked the names of U.S. citizens to reporters. In the end, the seriousness of the accusation against Rice and other former administration officials who will be caught up in the “unmasking” scandal will rise or fall based on whether or not Donald Trump was actively engaged in a conspiracy to turn over the keys of the White House to the Kremlin. For true believers in the Trump-Kremlin conspiracy theories, the Obama “spying and lying” scandal isn’t a scandal at all; just public officials taking prudent steps to guard against an imminent threat to the republic.

But what if Donald Trump wasn’t the first or only target of an Obama White House campaign of spying and illegal leaks directed at domestic political opponents?

In a December 29, 2015 article, The Wall Street Journal described how the Obama administration had conducted surveillance on Israeli officials to understand how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials, like Ambassador Ron Dermer, intended to fight the Iran Deal. The Journal reported that the targeting “also swept up the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups.”

Despite this reporting, it seemed inconceivable at the time that—given myriad legal, ethical, political, and historical concerns, as well as strict National Security Agency protocols that protect the identity of American names caught in intercepts—the Obama White House would have actually spied on American citizens. In a December 31, 2016, Tablet article on the controversy, “Why the White House Wanted Congress to Think It Was Being Spied on By the NSA,” I argued that the Obama administration had merely used the appearance of spying on American lawmakers to corner opponents of the Iran Deal. Spying on U.S. citizens would be a clear abuse of the foreign-intelligence surveillance system. It would be a felony offense to leak the names of U.S. citizens to the press.

[Read the full story here, at Tablet Magazine]

Increasingly, I believe that my conclusion in that piece was wrong. I believe the spying was real and that it was done not in an effort to keep the country safe from threats—but in order to help the White House fight their domestic political opponents.

“At some point, the administration weaponized the NSA’s legitimate monitoring of communications of foreign officials to stay one step ahead of domestic political opponents,” says a pro-Israel political operative who was deeply involved in the day-to-day fight over the Iran Deal. “The NSA’s collections of foreigners became a means of gathering real-time intelligence on Americans engaged in perfectly legitimate political activism—activism, due to the nature of the issue, that naturally involved conversations with foreigners. We began to notice the White House was responding immediately, sometimes within 24 hours, to specific conversations we were having. At first, we thought it was a coincidence being amplified by our own paranoia. After a while, it simply became our working assumption that we were being spied on.”

This is what systematic abuse of foreign-intelligence collection for domestic political purposes looks like: Intelligence collected on Americans, lawmakers, and figures in the pro-Israel community was fed back to the Obama White House as part of its political operations. The administration got the drop on its opponents by using classified information, which it then used to draw up its own game plan to block and freeze those on the other side. And—with the help of certain journalists whose stories (and thus careers) depend on high-level access—terrorize them.

Once you understand how this may have worked, it becomes easier to comprehend why and how we keep being fed daily treats of Trump’s nefarious Russia ties. The issue this time isn’t Israel, but Russia, yet the basic contours may very well be the same.

***

Two inquiries now underway on Capitol Hill, conducted by the Senate intelligence committee and the House intelligence committee, may discover the extent to which Obama administration officials unmasked the identities of Trump team members caught in foreign-intelligence intercepts. What we know so far is that Obama administration officials unmasked the identity of one Trump team member, Michael Flynn, and leaked his name to the Washington Post’s David Ignatius.

“According to a senior U.S. government official,” Ignatius wrote in his Jan. 12 column, “Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions?”

Nothing, the Times and the Post later reported. But exposing Flynn’s name in the intercept for political purposes was an abuse of the national-security apparatus, and leaking it to the press is a crime.

This is familiar territory. … (read more)

Source: Tablet Magazine

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