President Donald Trump shattered Saturday morning’s news cycle with a series of tweets accusing former-President Obama with tapping his phones in Trump Tower prior to the election.
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism,” Trump tweeted.
“Is it legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!” he said later.
Trump tweeted that a “good lawyer could make a great case of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!
“How low has President Obama gone to tap (sic) my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergage. Bad (or sick) guy!” Trump charged.
While Trump did not provide a source for his claim, Fox News pointed to a Friday Breitbart story that said the Obama administration made two Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) requests in 2016 to monitor Trump communications and a computer server in Trump Tower in connection with claims of the Republican candidate’s links to Russia and Russian banks, in particular.
In January, the New York Times reported U.S. “law enforcement and intelligence agencies were examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said.”
Despite having found no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing, an officials said intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications had been provided to the White House.
Spokesmen for Obama were quick to respond to Trump’s charge.
“Neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false,” said Kevin Lewis, a spokesman for Obama.
“A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice,” he added.
Ben Rhodes, a former foreign-policy adviser for Obama, also took issue with Trump’s charge, tweeting, “No president can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you.”
However, earlier evidence of NSA spying on American citizens calls into question the Obama spokesmen’s protestations, even if technically correct.
WND reported in 2013 on congressional hearings where then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper apologized for lying to Congress over his agency’s surveillance of American citizens.
Technically, a FISA warrant is required to intentionally target the communications of American citizens or people inside the U.S.
When the NSA does get a warrant from the FISA court it can resemble a blank check.
In the case of a 2010 warrant obtained by the London Guardian, the warrant was only one-paragraph long and did not contain detailed legal rulings or explanations.
Signed by a FISA judge, it simply declared “the procedures submitted by the attorney general on behalf of the NSA are consistent with U.S. law and the fourth amendment.”
The procedures let analysts decide for themselves if a person is located overseas, if the agency has no specific information on the target’s location.
The NSA is supposed to use a variety of resources including IP addresses, public information and information from other agencies to determine if the potential target is located outside the U.S.
But, even if it later turns out the target was located in the U.S., analysts are still permitted to listen to calls and look at messages to verify the location.
And warrants aren’t even used to obtain the bulk of the data collected.
The reason the discretion of the NSA analysts is so broad seems to stem from Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act (FAA), which was renewed for five years last December.
It allows the NSA to collect large scale data from any country, as long as the target is believed to be overseas.
Former NSA contractor James Snowden, who revealed the data-collection program, claims even low-level analysts at the NSA can access the content of Americans’ phone calls and emails whenever they want without a warrant.
His claims appear to be backed up by documents obtained by the London Guardian and the Washington Post.
The papers reported two documents submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) court by Attorney General Eric Holder on July 29, 2009, detailed the procedures the NSA is to follow to minimize the collection of data on U.S. citizens.
But it showed loopholes so broad the NSA could still collect domestic communications and use them for any number of reasons.
The documents reportedly show the NSA’s own analysts have the power to decide who to target for surveillance without going to the courts or even their superiors.
The guidelines are supposed to provide procedures for guarding Americans’ privacy but they also give the NSA the latitude to keep information obtained by surveillance under certain conditions.
That includes when the information contains “significant foreign intelligence”, evidence of a crime, a threat to harm people or property or is believed be relevant to cybersecurity.
The classified documents also show the NSA’s own guidelines allow analysts to collect and keep the contents of phone calls and emails of American citizens and legal residents under a “wide range of circumstances,” according to the Washington Post.
President Obama has also claimed the NSA does not look at the contents of emails and phone calls unless it goes to a FISA judge and obtains a warrant.
He said the NSA activities “do not involve listening to people’s phone calls, do not involve reading the emails of U.S. citizens or U.S. residents, absent further action by a federal court, that is entirely consistent with what we would do, for example, in a criminal investigation.”
But, as WND reported in June 2013, a key Democrat revealed the president’s account is not accurate.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said he was “startled” to learn NSA analysts can decide for themselves whether to access the content of a domestic phone call.
Nadler emerged from a secret briefing for members of Congress and said the NSA allows analysts to listen to calls without court authorization.
He said the NSA accesses the contents of phone calls “simply based on an analyst deciding that.”
The legal standards for monitoring phone calls also apply to emails, text messages and instant messages, which means the NSA also may be accessing the content of those communications without court authorization.
Declan McCullagh of CNET broke the story and observed, “[I]t also suggests the Justice Department has secretly interpreted federal surveillance law to permit thousands of low-ranking analysts to eavesdrop on phone calls.”
Additionally, the Post disclosed the existence of NUCLEON, a top-secret NSA program which “intercepts telephone calls and routes the spoken words” to a database.
The paper reported top intelligence officials in Obama administration “have resolutely refused to offer an estimate of the number of Americans whose calls or e-mails have thus made their way into content databases such as NUCLEON”.
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