When the New York Times published its expose on “American spies” handing over a cash down payment of $100,000 for stolen NSA cyberweapons (otherwise known as “hacking tools”), along with a promise of dirt on President Trump that the spies claimed not to want, its look into the shadowy world of international espionage provided a look –- perhaps inadvertent –- into the shady and questionable nature of information given to the FBI by Christopher Steele.
In my mind, the question becomes –- and so far I haven’t heard anyone else ask this –- “If our CIA and NSA had good reason to distrust information from Russian sources about Donald Trump, how could our own FBI trust the unverified material handed over by Christopher Steele, which had origins just as dicey?” (I’d argue that they might even have been dicier, as much of that “dossier” may have originated not from Russians at all, but from longtime Hillary henchmen such as Sidney Blumenthal and Cody Shearer.) Answer: they couldn’t, and yet they used it front-and-center in their application to the FISA court to spy on Trump campaign advisor Carter Page –- who says he’s never even spoken with Trump --- and, by extension, other members of the campaign team.
Recall that when Trump claimed to have been “wiretapped,” he was loudly ridiculed in the media, but this travesty is exactly what he was talking about. What happened to his campaign in 2016 is reminiscent of the foiled attempt to bug the Watergate Democratic Party headquarters during Nixon’s run for re-election, only raised to the tenth power because it incorporated abuses of a vast privacy-invading technology that didn’t exist in the early ‘70s. Spies no longer have to pick a lock, trespass on private property and physically install a wiretap; if they have a FISA warrant (obtained by any means necessary), they can just listen in on anything they want.
When the Fourth Amendment was put into our Bill Of Rights, our forefathers never dreamed that “searches and seizures” might someday be carried out in this all-encompassing way. It was beyond imagination. Even the dark world envisioned by George Orwell didn’t include the digital technology we have today that’s capable of capturing every word of communication. So the Fourth Amendment is even more critically important now.
When the Russian seller met the American go-between for payment and the handoff of the promised cyberweapons, he reportedly didn’t have them but did produce “unverified and possibly fabricated” information about President Trump: emails, bank records and what he said was Russian intelligence data. According to the Times story, our agents were distrustful, thinking this might be a ploy designed to entangle them in a Russian operation to create discord inside the American government. (Do you hear that, FBI?) And they were concerned about political fallout in Washington if they were found to have bought this kind of information on the President. (Again: hey, FBI!)
The Russian claimed to have video of Trump with two prostitutes in a Moscow hotel in 2013, though no evidence of this was offered. There’s just a 15-second video, with no audio, of a man in a room talking with two women, but the footage is so grainy that there’s no way to confirm it’s Donald Trump. That bit of worthless video was screened for the American go-between at the Russian embassy in Berlin, which in itself casts doubt on its authenticity. Don’t tell me CNN wouldn’t run with it, though!
Anyway, the point is, this kind of information from such disreputable sources –- whether Russian agents or those equally shady Clinton cronies --- is so unreliable that the FBI should never have presented anything of the kind to a FISA court. (It’s hard to understand how the FISA judges could have taken it seriously, but perhaps some light will be shed on that in the coming weeks.) I have to wonder if the New York Times realized it was making this point about FISA abuse with their new story.
If you like fascinating reads about undercover agents in exotic locations, passing off suitcases of money in five-star hotels, you might want to check out the details of the Times story. Or, just pick up your favorite spy novel.