There’s an understandable impatience and frustration from many with how long it’s taking to see visible action from the Obamagate investigators. We’ve been getting clues and “bombshells” for a long time now, and yet nothing concrete seems to happen.
What I’ll briefly lay out here is the case that it’s going to happen soon – it might be any day now – and we know that from the appearance of Grenell with the satchel at the Justice Department, along with a very few, easy-to-miss words of tweet in journalist Adam Housley’s feed in the last 48 hours.
The clues are minimal, but if you know how to read them, you know that the investigators at DOJ and in the intel community have gone right where they needed to go, and they’ve hit the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
What will blow the whole thing wide open is simply this: laying bare the nexus of the operation at the National Security Council staff.
Not among the principals; i.e., the “big officials,” like Susan Rice, James Clapper, or John Brennan.
That was just done this morning, with the release of the names of formal unmaskers (a release accomplished by Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson). And it applied only to unmaskings related to Michael Flynn
No, the pot of gold is among the worker bees (including “czar” appointees). The people who actually sat at computers and used them, to do things the principals could authorize, but didn’t keyboard-jockey themselves, because NSC principals aren’t your keyboard jockeys.
I wrote about this back in August 2017, and a number of times since. Rather than remake the whole case, I’ll give you the links (e.g., here, here, here) to understand it if you haven’t been following along, and merely set forth the key points in this article.
Understanding the scope of the Obamagate enterprise is best done through insight into how it ran through the NSC staff. Who on the staff was involved? And what recorded actions did they take?
Those are the two questions whose answers will form the Rosetta Stone for Obamagate. Remember, Obamagate is the name that clarifies this key point: the enterprise went all the way into the Oval Office. Spygate and Russiagate don’t do that for us. They finger actions involving subordinates performing in their lanes; they don’t clarify the full scope of the administration-wide operation.
(For what it’s worth, I don’t think Obama himself was the “mastermind.” I think he had cognizance of what was a centrally coordinated campaign against a Trump presidency, but that there’s a “cabal” behind it, if you will, that is fairly identifiable from its long-time political activities, and the movers and shakers are other people. Call it the “deep state” plus Democracy Alliance, which includes the media as its agents and scribes, although that’s not the only grouping.)
A number of the actors on the NSC staff are probably people whose names few of us know. I just heard the number “39” given in a news report, indicating that Ric Grenell’s list of “unmaskers” has that many names on it.
Next: Grenell’s list is about “unmasking”; or, more generally and accurately, about those 39 or so people seeking to link individually identified Americans with their communications, as those communications are retrievable through the NSA under FISA or other authority (basically, the Patriot Act).
It’s extremely important to understand that formal “unmasking” isn’t the only thing at issue here. In fact, that’s what recognizing these clues turns on. There aren’t anywhere near 39 unmasking authorities. That means most of the names on Grenell’s list are names of people who were engaged in looking at “U.S. person information” (USPI) – literally, pulling it up via computer-run queries – while not being, themselves, formal unmasking authorities. (See footnote and update at bottom.)*
I’ve explained before that that is possible. Please read my earlier articles to verify it.
A very important data point is that we have known for years now that this was happening. The ODNI reported it in 2017, in response to the FISA court review – prompted by NSA’s Admiral Mike Rogers and his community report of October 2016 – which directed the intelligence community to police this problem up.
One more time, here is the telltale graphic from the ODNI confessional report in 2017:
The graphic shows how the number of so-called “non-contents,” upstream queries under FISA Section 702 exploded between 2012 and 2016. These are the queries that enabled desk jockeys at the federal agencies and the NSC staff to view USPI – without having to record a formal unmasking request. (Again, please see my earlier articles for what makes that possible.)
This is the skulduggery we’re looking for. It wasn’t tracking entries in a formal logbook that revealed it. It had to be computer forensics: tracing the actions of account users, as logged by the computer systems.
And here is how we know that’s what Grenell has found in the logs of the intelligence community’s computer systems. These tweets in Adam Housley’s threads on Monday and Tuesday tell us everything we need to know.
Ooooooh brother. Massive surveillance…that’s what’s been found. “MASSIVE” is the way it was sent to me.
— Adam Housley (@adamhousley) May 12, 2020
As I’m told the list Grenell brought over is much larger than anything involving Flynn. “The exact tasking flow is hard to discern because the stuff was flying everywhere.”
— Adam Housley (@adamhousley) May 12, 2020
This is exactly what his sources, apparently at the DOJ, would be telling Housley, if what they’re talking about is the extraordinary (“massive”) scope of the “backdoor unmasking,” and the fact that it went far beyond Flynn, or implicitly any other single vector that we know about in the annals of Spygate and Russiagate (e.g., Page or Manafort).
The intel community already knows what this means. People at the DOJ who weren’t in the Obama-era loop on it would still be getting their heads around that. They would speak in pretty much the terms recounted in the Housley thread; i.e., that it’s massive and it goes in a whole lot of directions.
The NSC staff isn’t the only physical place it was done. The notorious dust-up at the FBI’s Washington Field Office in March 2016 is a strong data point indicating that the FBI was involved in it, with contractors – people who weren’t government employees – being able to view USPI material. The unauthorized viewing by contractors was a major issue, exposed to the public in Judge Rosemary Collyer’s orders after the FISA court review was released in 2017.
There are other opinions on this, but I believe there is a strong argument that there were two agencies involved in that particular case: the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). The exposed contractors were very likely to be individuals from the same company who worked government contracts that that company held with both agencies.
The company is the one John Brennan was president of from 2005 to 2009: The Analysis Corporation. A major reason this hypothesis resonates is that the TAC contract with both agencies is for database maintenance and analysis. (The contracts are still active. They were very long ones, obtained in 2008 and 2009, running into hundreds of millions of dollars.)
The other major reason is that in 2012, Brennan set up the close collaboration of the FBI and NCTC on precisely the data we’re concerned about – USPI – when he was Obama’s counterterrorism czar.
But, again, the NSC staff as the nexus for Obamagate is the key to divining the architecture of what was essentially a syndicate enterprise. The NSC staff has desks and computers manned by most of the major agencies of the U.S. government. A CIA representative working there is “CIA,” in every meaningful sense, but is available for activities that can only be performed from the physical location of the White House complex. The same is true for the DOJ, FBI, State, Treasury, and so forth. Then there are the employees of the Executive Office of the President itself, the core of the NSC staff.
The sheer number of persons said to be on Grenell’s list informs us that the “black book” of this enterprise has been pried out and assembled, computer keystroke by computer keystroke.
This is far more important than seeing the names of senior officials we already knew were unmasking authorities, attached to their unmasking requests.
This is leverage. This is insight. It goes well beyond the Michael Flynn case. This expanded list is how you figure out what the enterprise was and who was in it. So the fact that Grenell delivered it publicly is in itself significant. It means the investigators are very close to being ready for a big “reveal.”
We can assume the Ric Grenell ODNI has been cooperating on this matter with the DOJ – in particular, with John Durham – since Grenell stepped in as Acting in February 2020. That’s a key reason I am confident Durham is already on the move, and fresh revelations are coming very soon.
But the potential for using the leverage to bring down the whole enterprise – expose the activities, obtain convictions everywhere it’s possible, ensure no one goes scot-free – declines with each name that is released prematurely. No name should be publicly released so early that the release would be deemed improper and prejudicial at trial. Moreover, the earlier Grenell’s names are released, the more alertment the potential defendants have that they are on the hot spit.
Remember, these people have not been arraigned. They may have guilty consciences, but they don’t know for certain that the government thinks it has a case against them. It serves no public purpose to alert them to that before Durham has presented evidence to grand juries, and obtained indictments.
As hard as it is, we are better off waiting while Durham gets his job done. If we want convictions, that’s the deal. He can’t expose everything he’s got to the public until he has his defendants locked down. Once he starts the clock on a speedy trial for the first one, he’s racing the discovery clock on that one, and all the rest.
This Obamagate enterprise would be very much like a major mob case, with a vast number of moving parts and the need to leverage some individual cases against others, do things in sequence, and probably orchestrate some near-simultaneous sweeps. Every action will provoke a reaction from the defendants and their lawyers.
Those potential defendants are not unalerted now. They’d see the clues more clearly than we do. That makes it even harder for the DOJ to put this together. Let’s let Durham do his job.
* There is reason to suspect that the hunt for this information has been on since August 2017, when an NSC staffer named Ezra Cohen-Watnick left the NSC to go to work for Oracle, the database management company. Oracle is a major contractor with the U.S. government, and designs and manages structured databases for intelligence applications, among other disciplines. Cohen-Watnick was brought onto the NSC by LTG Flynn, and once Flynn had left it was assumed his days would be numbered on the NSC staff.
Cohen-Watnick went to Oracle with no background expertise in database coding or management. I have speculated since learning of his new assignment that he may have been dispatched to work the contractor side of the computer system forensics necessary to identify the Obamagate actors. Significantly, he would have recognized the user actions that identified “backdoor unmasking.” He could have advised Oracle techs on where to look for evidence.
See the footnote at this link; the article itself is extremely long, but may be of interest to those who want to ponder all the features I think are likely to emerge from Obamagate.
*UPDATE* This tweet from Rich Higgins Wednesday evening confirms my earlier analysis. It was indeed Ezra Cohen-Watnick who shepherded the audit on this.
— J.E. Dyer (@OptimisticCon) May 14, 2020