Fox News host Tucker Carlson broke a story Monday evening which is now bombshelling on social media. Carlson claims a “whistleblower” has advised him that the NSA is monitoring his show’s communications, and the intent is to get him taken off-air.
The video clip of the segment is below.
According to Carlson: “Yesterday we heard from a whistleblower within the U.S. government who reached out to warn us that the NSA, the National Security Agency, is monitoring our electronic communications, and is planning to leak them in an attempt to take this show off the air.”
Obviously, for those who know the limitations of NSA’s role, per se, this needs a little unpacking. We’ll get to that.
Carlson continues, “Now, that’s a shocking claim, and ordinarily we’d be skeptical of it. It’s illegal for the NSA to spy on American citizens. It’s a crime. It’s not a Third World country. Things like that should not happen in America. But unfortunately they do happen, and in this case, they did happen.”
The gist of his disclosure is as follows. “The whistleblower, who is in a position to know, repeated back to us information about a story that we are working on that can have only come directly from my texts and emails. There’s no other possible source for that information, period.”
Carlson’s conclusion is that “The NSA captured that information without our knowledge and did it for political reasons. The Biden administration is spying on us. We have confirmed that.”
There is no value in treating this as a devious set-up by one side or the other; i.e., Carlson or the feds. By inspecting it straightforwardly, we can at least assemble some sensible thinking points.
One is that to assess what’s going on with greater certainty, we need to know what the story Carlson is working on is about. The two important questions are these:
(1) Does it involve foreign actors who might pose a national security or counterintelligence threat to the U.S..?
(2) Does it involve leaks of classified information being made by current or former employees of the government?
If either is the case, there could be a justification being used for surveillance of communications to which Carlson is a party. That doesn’t mean it’s not ultimately nefarious on the administration’s part, but in nominal terms, it would be the same thing other administrations have done with surveillance of journalists and media figures; i.e., use their comms to get to threat sources or leakers.
It is of interest that the “whistleblower” fingered NSA as doing the monitoring. Obviously, again, that’s a red flag. If Carlson himself and his show are the subjects of the monitoring, it should be the Justice Department and FBI justifying the action, and being the agencies of record for it. It wouldn’t normally be said within the intel community that “NSA” was monitoring Carlson, if it’s a DOJ/FBI project for national security/counterintel or a criminal matter.
So if the “whistleblower” source is saying it’s NSA, that’s information. It’s not by any means definitive information, however. As Carlson says, if it’s really, straightforwardly, no-shades-of-meaning here NSA at the helm, it’s an illegal operation.
But there’s a chance someone in the chain of information to Carlson either (a) has garbled the details, or (b) is telling Carlson it’s NSA for some reason (when it’s actually the FBI). The source of knowledge for the whistleblower could conceivably be NSA, even if it’s the FBI actually executing the task.
A third point is that if Carlson’s story involves foreign actors, it may be that Carlson is not formally the subject of the monitoring, but his participation in the main subject’s comms is being “unmasked.”
This wouldn’t be about Section 702 non-contents queries, because what Carlson describes is, in fact, having his contents quoted to hm. So clearly, the actual contents of his comms are being retrieved and identified as his.
That would indicate front-door unmasking, if – big if, unknown/not proven – Carlson’s comms are being monitored incidentally to monitoring a legitimate foreign target.
So there are various permutations of possibility here.
A couple of comments. One, NSA is a collection processor and analytical agent for applications like this, not a policy-agenda element of the government. NSA doesn’t take it into its head to get pundits and their TV shows off the air.
If there is a Biden administration effort to get Carlson defenestrated by spying on his comms, it’s not coming from NSA. It’s being tasked to NSA. There are aspects of federal policy that NSA has the lead on (in cyber operations and security), but this isn’t one of them. (Best guess: if – another big one – this is being tasked to NSA, it’s probably coming from the NSC level.)
Two, if the whistleblower’s report means the Biden administration is going through Carlson’s comms to identify a government leaker, as a DOJ/FBI investigative effort, that would highlight unflatteringly the Biden DOJ’s claim nearly three weeks ago that it would clamp down on doing such a terrible thing.
Attended by “mystery” or not, the DOJ announcement came during a frenzy of table-pounding by the media and Democratic politicians about the Trump administration looking for leakers of classified information that way. Biden doesn’t just get a pass if he’s doing it himself.
We’ll see where this goes. Where I agree with Carlson, even without more specifics, is on this: Congress needs to look into it.