A massive amount of data has been unearthed over the past few weeks that suggests former FBI Director James Comey was less than forthcoming about the bureau’s use of unethical and at times illegal mining of data it had no right to view in its continued plying for political strong-arm techniques against “enemies of the state.” Newly declassified documents uncover a disturbing trend of high-level officials in both Congress and the White House to use the bureau as a political “get-even” operation that targeted both private citizens and political opponents. Comey has repeatedly denied the use of such information as cavalier and haphazard, but it appears that as early as 2012, Comey’s FBI was already being accused of hiding the truth when it came to questions of impropriety and misuse of NSA information.
Circa has been doing a good bit of digging and has reported that the director may now be finding that his high-level supporters behind-the-scenes may be jumping ship in big numbers as this new information becomes more available. Comey’s feigned school-girl innocence act may be coming to a brutal end for the man who has seemingly made a career out of playing both sides.
In his final congressional testimony before he was fired by President Trump this month, then-FBI Director James Comey unequivocally told lawmakers his agency used sensitive espionage data gathered about Americans without a warrant only when it was “lawfully collected, carefully overseen and checked.”
Once-top secret U.S. intelligence community memos reviewed by Circa tell a different story, citing instances of “disregard” for rules, inadequate training and “deficient” oversight and even one case of deliberately sharing spy data with a forbidden party.
For instance, a ruling declassified this month by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) chronicles nearly 10 pages listing hundreds of violations of the FBI’s privacy-protecting minimization rules that occurred on Comey’s watch.
The behavior the FBI admitted to a FISA judge just last month ranged from illegally sharing raw intelligence with unauthorized third parties to accessing intercepted attorney-client privileged communications without proper oversight the bureau promised was in place years ago.
The court also opined aloud that it fears the violations are more extensive than already disclosed.
“The Court is nonetheless concerned about the FBI’s apparent disregard of minimization rules and whether the FBI is engaging in similar disclosures of raw Section 702 information that have not been reported,” the April 2017 ruling declared.
Even the Department of Justice under Obama questioned the veracity at which Comey’s bureau was using data from other sources and how careful it was being in delving into such information for the outward appearances of investigation.
The Justice Department inspector general’s office declassified a report in 2015 that reveals the internal watchdog had concerns as early as 2012 that the FBI was submitting ‘deficient” reports indicating it had a clean record complying with spy data gathered on Americans without a warrant.
Also at odds with assurances by former Director Comey is the fact that they appeared to use on perhaps thousands or even tens of thousands of occasions information from that collected of “foreign targets” where American private citizens were involved. This means that Comey or someone else in a superior capacity ordered the bureau to view information illegally in order to spy on private American citizens (which is President Trump’s claim and others) through the misdirective suggestion that they were looking at “foreign targets” who just “happened” to be speaking with American private citizens.
This explosive detail admitted to in these DOJ documents shows that even former Attorney General Eric Holder and Obama were worried that they might be the targets of inquiry through this means in a private citizen capacity. The FBI however had become so addicted to this sort of illegal tapping of information that it could not stop itself from using it and excusing the behavior with vague and overarching terminology that spoke of issues in the interest of “national security.”
The FBI normally is forbidden from surveilling an American without a warrant. But Section 702 of the Foreign Surveillance Act, last updated by Congress in 2008, allowed the NSA to share with the FBI spy data collected without a warrant that includes the communications of Americans with “foreign targets.”
The FBI’s very first compliance report in 2009 declared it had not found any instances in which agents accessed NSA intercepts supposedly gathered overseas about an American who in fact was on U.S. soil.
But the IG said it reviewed the same data and easily found evidence that the FBI accessed NSA data gathered on a person who likely was in the United States, making it illegal to review without a warrant.
This is also key because this states that the FBI was caught lying about its methods of information collecting and was immediately called on it by the Inspector General.
“We found several instances in which the FBI acquired communications on the same day that the NSA determined through analysis of intercepted communications that the person was in the United States,” the declassified report revealed.
It called the FBI’s first oversight report “deficient” and urged better oversight.
FBI officials acknowledged there have been violations but insist they are a small percentage of the total counterterrorism and counterintelligence work its agents perform.
Let us not forget that these “officials” are Comey and his direct subordinates who knew, years BEFORE he ever testified before Congress, that his bureau’s illegal activities had been noticed and had caused raised eyebrows. Yet he denied any knowledge of wrongdoing on the part of his agents when directly questioned years later.
That doubt, heaviest among civil libertarian Democrats but also growing among Republicans, is particularly sensitive because the law that allows the bureau to access warrantless spy data about Americans – Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – is up for renewal later this year.
Lawmakers in both parties and both chambers of Congress are writing reforms behind closed door, leaving the intelligence community anxious it might lose some of the spy powers it considers essential to fighting terrorism, cyber attacks and unlawful foreign influence.
The report by Circa also speaks about “civil libertarian Democrats” (as if that actually exists anymore), but it is increasingly clear that the Democrat Party has veered from that path more than two decades ago, choosing instead its current path of more intrusion, less transparency, and an ability by government to stoop to levels unprecedented in its efforts to uncover information on its political enemies once thought untouchable. Both Democrats and the Establishmentariat RINOs will do everything in their power to protect this goldmine of syping techniques as long as possible until the bloodhounds get too close to the truth. The abandoning of Comey will ensue en masse and nothing that the former director can do will halt this exodus.
The most serious involved the NSA searching for American data it was forbidden to search. But the FBI also was forced to admit its agents and analysts shared espionage data with prohibited third parties, ranging from a federal contractor to a private entity that did not have the legal right to see the intelligence.
Such third-party sharing is a huge political concern now as Congress and intelligence community leaders try to stop the flow of classified information to parties that could illegally disclose or misuse it, such as the recent leak that disclosed intercepted communications between the Russian ambassador and Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
The court’s memo suggested the FBI’s sharing of raw intelligence to third parties, at the time, had good law enforcement intentions but bad judgment and inadequate training.
“Nonetheless, the above described practices violated the governing minimization procedures,” the court chided.
A footnote in the ruling stated one instance of improper sharing was likely intentional.
“Improper access” to NSA spy data for FBI contractors “seems to have been the result of deliberate decision-making,” the court noted.
The recently unsealed ruling also revealed the FBI is investigating more cases of possible improper sharing with private parties that recently have come to light.
The government “is investigating whether there have been similar cases in which the FBI improperly afforded non-FBI personnel access to raw FISA-acquired information on FBI systems,” the court warned.
The habit of the FBI retaining such mined information on hard drives within the agency was another issue that came up and one which lawmakers appeared to have problems understanding. The standard excuse of untrained agents arose.
The FBI said it is trying to resolve the deficiencies with aggressive training of agents.
That admission of inadequate training directly undercut Comey’s testimony earlier this month when questioned by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
“Nobody gets to see FISA information of any kind unless they’ve had the appropriate training and have the appropriate oversight,” the soon-to-be-fired FBI director assured lawmakers.
Former top security advisor to former Attorney General Eric Holder, Amy Jeffress, warns that this embedded tick may be harder to remove than initially suggested.
And when questioned at a subsequent hearing, Jeffress observed: “I don’t think that the FBI will voluntarily set limits on its querying procedures, because law enforcement agencies tend not to take steps to restrict or limit what they can do, for obvious reasons.”
Circa appears to be a very honest site for assessing declassified documentation and its impact on American liberties, but also seems to tend toward viewing Democrats in a very favorable light as well, veering away from the fact that people like Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) while pursuing an aggressive line of questioning of former Director Comey stopped short of going the extra mile to proclaim that this information-mining needed to be arrested and halted by the FBI.
It also spoke glowingly about the Department of Justice under Eric Holder, appearing to be completely unaware or unwilling to acknowledge the many dozens of instances of appearances of infidelity to the law and complete breaking of protocol and legal proceedings when it came to its own scandals. The Operation Fast & Furious boondoggle is one that immediately comes to mind.
Regardless, it is a decent write-up of all the subtleties that are involved and how these will eventually impact the new takes on these laws and bills in the coming months.