Monday, May 29, 2017

The Puzzle Palace And The G-Men

Former NSA analyst John Schindler says that the order has come from agency chief Adm. Mike Rogers to unleash the full power of the agency and preserve anything and everything collected on Team Trump period.

In my last column, I broke the news that Admiral Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, reportedly explained to his workforce last week that he had declined to assist President Donald Trump in his efforts to undermine the FBI and its counterintelligence investigation of the White House. As Rogers is said to have explained to agency personnel, “There is no question that we have evidence of election involvement and questionable contacts with the Russians.”

On this basis, Admiral Rogers confirmed the existence of highly classified signals intelligence which establishes some sort of collusion between Team Trump and the Kremlin during the 2016 election campaign. However, now that the Justice Department has appointed Robert Mueller special counsel charged with running the Russia investigation, NSA is apparently pulling out all the stops to track down any additional evidence which might be relevant to the expanded inquiry into KremlinGate.

Specifically, last week NSA is believed to have sent out an unprecedented order to the Directorate of Operations, the agency’s largest unit. The DO, as insiders term it, manages all of NSA’s SIGINT assets worldwide, making it the most important spy operation on earth. The email sent to every person assigned to the DO came from the Office of General Counsel, the NSA’s in-house lawyers, and it was something seldom seen at the agency—a preservation order.

Such an order would have charged every DO official, from junior analysts to senior managers, with finding any references to individuals involved in KremlinGate, especially high-ranking Americans—and preserving those records for Federal investigators. This would include intercepted phone calls and any transcripts of them, emails, online chats, faxes—anything the agency might have picked up last year.

At the request of NSA officials, I will not name the specific individuals that DO personnel have been told to be on the lookout for in SIGINT intercepts, but one could fairly surmise that the list includes virtually all key members of Team Trump.

Take it as you will, I believe that Schindler is right on the preservation order.  The reason is why, and he helpfully gives a devil's advocate defense:

The DO is divided into offices which focus on a specific country or region (e.g. China, the Middle East) or on a defined problem set (e.g. counterterrorism, counterintelligence). Months ago, the DO’s Russia shop is said to have received a preservation order from the agency’s lawyers—no surprise, given what that office does. Now such an order has reportedly been passed to the whole DO, including offices which have nothing to do with Russia. This demonstrates the agency’s serious intent to provide investigators with any evidence which may shed additional light on KremlinGate.

That said, NSA may have another motive in issuing this DO-wide order. Such motive is the Intelligence Community’s venerable tradition of self-preservation, what spy-veterans term CYA. As Trump’s Russia problems have heated up, his fans and media allies have made increasingly serious accusations of malfeasance by NSA and other spy agencies under President Obama. Some of these wild charges have been ludicrous, merely lies created by Kremlin disinformation outlets, then parroted by right-wing media in America.
That media has lavished particular attention on the issue of SIGINT unmasking, meaning the process of how NSA responds to high-level requests to reveal the name of any American who appears in an intelligence report (normally those names are redacted; for an explanation of how this complex issue really works, see this). Although there’s no evidence of any systematic abuse of unmasking by President Obama, this hasn’t halted the increasingly shrill accusations. 

Which is odd because anyone who has followed Schindler's blog and Observer column would be able to say that he is no fan of President Obama whatsoever.  Yes, this could be Schindler going to bat to protect his former employer from criticism, after all Edward Snowden and more recently Harold Martin did catastrophic damage to the agency and its reputation.  The information Putin got to compromise us came from these guys, and they remain some of the largest failures in American intelligence history, and Schindler has blamed Obama for these events for years now.  Of course Schindler wants to redeem the Puzzle Palace.

Having said that, it does make sense that with a special counsel like Robert Mueller now on the case that he would enlist the NSA's help on this.  Maybe Schindler's finally buried the hatchet long enough to realize the real bad guy here is Trump...and Putin.  Ahh, but Trump's increasing paranoia is going to make things very rough for the agency, and he can still do a lot of damage to it on the way out.

President Donald Trump has been aggressively working the phones since returning this weekend from his foreign trip, talking to friends and outside lawyers as he obsesses over the deepening investigations into his aides and Russia.

Two White House officials said Trump and some aides including Steve Bannon are becoming increasingly convinced that they are victims of a conspiracy against Trump's presidency, as evidenced by the number of leaks flowing out of government — that the crusade by the so-called “deep state” is a legitimate threat, not just fodder for right wing defenders.

Still, Trump and his aides are starting to take the probes more seriously, seeking to establish a communications team dedicated to dealing with questions around the probe and beefing up his legal representation. And they've become more rattled by the idea that they don't know where the scandals are headed and who may be ensnared next.

“The more people talk to him about it, the more he obsesses about it,” said one outside adviser who is close to the president. The White House did not respond to requests for comment as to how Trump was spending his day after returning from the nine-day foreign trip the night before.

How long before he fires Rogers, I wonder.  He'd have legitimate cause to do so over Harold Martin.

We'll see.

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