Posted tagged ‘Trump and Russia’

Fix Is In: House Committee on ‘Russian Hacking’ Includes Only DNC-Hired Tech Experts

March 9, 2017

Fix Is In: House Committee on ‘Russian Hacking’ Includes Only DNC-Hired Tech Experts, Breitbart, Lee Stranahan, March 9, 2017

CrowdStrike

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence says that initial witness invitation lists “may be expanded or modified as warranted.”

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A list of witnesses scheduled to appear at a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Open Hearing on “Russian Active Measures” contains a glaring problem: the only technical experts scheduled to testify are from CrowdStrike. CrowdStrike is a firm hired by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and has become the primary source of the narrative about “Russian hacking” of the 2016 election and has acted as a mouthpiece for the Democrats since last June.

The initial witness list released by House Intelligence includes a number of intelligence officials, all appointed during the Obama administration, such as former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, but the sole technical people on the invitation list are two representatives of CrowdStrike, President Shawn Henry, and the co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch.

Breitbart News has interviewed tech experts who do not agree with the CrowdStrike assessment or Obama administration’s claims that the DNC/DCCC hacks clearly committed by Russian state actors, with much criticism aimed at the FBI/DHS Joint Analysis Report (JAR) “Grizzly Steppe” that was released at the end of December. As ZDNet reported after the JAR report was released by the Obama administration on the same day that they announced sanctions against Russia:

The JAR included “specific indicators of compromise, including IP addresses and a PHP malware sample.” But what does this really prove? Wordfence, a WordPress security company specializing in analyzing PHP malware, examined these indicators and didn’t find any hard evidence of Russian involvement. Instead, Wordfence found the attack software was P.AS. 3.1.0, an out-of-date, web-shell hacking tool. The newest version, 4.1.1b, is more sophisticated. Its website claims it was written in the Ukraine.

Mark Maunder, Wordfence’s CEO, concluded that since the attacks were made “several versions behind the most current version of P.A.S sic which is 4.1.1b. One might reasonably expect Russian intelligence operatives to develop their own tools or at least use current malicious tools from outside sources.”

True, as Errata Security CEO Rob Graham pointed out in a blog post, P.A.S is popular among Russia/Ukraine hackers. But it’s “used by hundreds if not thousands of hackers, mostly associated with Russia, but also throughout the rest of the world.” In short, just because the attackers used P.A.S., that’s not enough evidence to blame it on the Russian government.

Independent cybersecurity experts, such as Jeffrey Carr, have cited numerous errors that the media and CrowdStrike have made in discussing the hacking in what Carr refers to as a “runaway train” of misinformation.

For example, CrowdStrike has named a threat group that they have given the name “Fancy Bear” for the hacks and then said this threat group is Russian intelligence. In December 2016, Carr wrote in a post on Medium:

A common misconception of “threat group” is that [it] refers to a group of people. It doesn’t. Here’s how ESET describes SEDNIT, one of the names for the threat group known as APT28, Fancy Bear, etc. This definition is found on p.12 of part two “En Route with Sednit: Observing the Comings and Goings”:

As security researchers, what we call “the Sednit group” is merely a set of software and the related network infrastructure, which we can hardly correlate with any specific organization.

Unlike CrowdStrike, ESET doesn’t assign APT28/Fancy Bear/Sednit to a Russian Intelligence Service or anyone else for a very simple reason. Once malware is deployed, it is no longer under the control of the hacker who deployed it or the developer who created it. It can be reverse-engineered, copied, modified, shared and redeployed again and again by anyone.

Despite these and other criticisms from technical experts with no political axe to grind, the House Intelligence committee has called no independent cybersecurity professionals to challenge the Democrats’ claims of “Russian hacking” that have been repeated ad naseum by the media.

Instead of presenting counter-arguments to allow the general public to make up their own minds, the House committee has invited Shawn Henry and Dmitri Alperovitch from CrowdStrike,

The danger is especially high since the subject involves technical details that the public—and, frankly, most politicians—don’t understand and can be easily fooled about. A presentation with no rebuttal at all from other technical experts will lead to even more disinformation being given to the American people.

There are a number of reasons to be skeptical of the objectivity of CrowdStrike’s assessments.

As Esquire reported in a long profile piece, the DNC specifically used Alperovitch and Henry as part of an anti-Trump publicity plan related to the hacking in early June 2016:

The DNC wanted to go public. At the committee’s request, Alperovitch and Henry briefed a reporter from The Washington Post about the attack.

Alperovitch told me he was thrilled that the DNC decided to publicize Russia’s involvement. “Having a client give us the ability to tell the full story” was a “milestone in the industry,” he says. “Not just highlighting a rogue nation-state’s actions but explaining what was taken and how and when. These stories are almost never told.”

The Esquire piece also indicates that as the election wore on, the Obama administration was also using Alperovitch and CrowdStrike’s claims to push the Democrat narrative that the Russians were behind the attack:

On October 7, two days before the second presidential debate, Alperovitch got a phone call from a senior government official alerting him that a statement identifying Russia as the sponsor of the DNC attack would soon be released. (The statement, from the office of the director of national intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security, appeared later that day.)

It is worth noting that CrowdStrike and Alperovitch’s story has evolved over time to match a Democrat narrative. In an article in Inc. on June 14, 2016, titled “Why the DNC Hired This Cybersecurity Firm to Fight Russian Spies,” Alperovitch claimed that the purpose of the DNC hack was to expose Donald Trump:

On Tuesday, it was revealed that the Russian government is implicated in a security breach of the Democratic National Committee’s computer network, through which opposition research on the bombastic presidential candidate was lifted.

“Every world leader is trying to figure out who Mr. Trump is, especially if he’s elected president, and they want to know what his foreign policies would be. Russia is no exception,” says Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder and CTO of CrowdStrike. His firm was hired to manage the breach. “The actors are also interested in any other information the DNC might have in their opposition research to use it against Trump if he becomes president,” says Alperovitch, who leads the Intelligence, Technology and CrowdStrike Labs teams.

There is no justification for a technical expert like Alperovitch ascribing motives to the hackers or making statements about what “world leaders” think. It is simply outside his area of expertise, but the point of the Democrats using Alperovitch and Henry to promote their “Russian hacking” narrative is to provide a technical veneer to their story to score political points.

Shawn Henry, the other House witness from CrowdStrike scheduled to testify on March 20 before House Intelligence, said on his LinkedIn page that he also works for NBC News, where he says his role is to “advise NBC News on all aspects of national, homeland, and cyber security, to include on-air appearances on all NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC News programs.” He added that he is to “regularly appear on Nightly News, The Today Show, and MSNBC news programming.”

CrowdStrike also has a financial connection to one of Hillary Clinton and the Democrats’ most high-profile supporters in Silicon Valley: Google.

In 2015, CrowdStrike raised $100 million in a new round of financing, according to the New York Timeswhich reported that “the investment was led by Google Capital, one of the technology giant’s venture capital arms, in its first cybersecurity deal.”

As Breitbart News reported, the WikiLeaks releases showed that Eric Schmidt, executive of Google Capital parent company and financier Alphabet, appeared to be working directly with the Clinton campaign.

All of this makes the reliance of the House Committee and the media on CrowdStrike disturbing, but even worse, earlier this year, BuzzFeed reported that the FBI did not examine the servers of the Democratic National Committee but, instead, based their assessment on CrowdStrike’s evaluation:

Six months after the FBI first said it was investigating the hack of the Democratic National Committee’s computer network, the bureau has still not requested access to the hacked servers, a DNC spokesman said. No US government entity has run an independent forensic analysis on the system, one US intelligence official told BuzzFeed News.

The FBI has instead relied on computer forensics from a third-party tech security company, CrowdStrike, which first determined in May of last year that the DNC’s servers had been infiltrated by Russia-linked hackers, the U.S. intelligence official told BuzzFeed News.

“CrowdStrike is pretty good. There’s no reason to believe that anything that they have concluded is not accurate,” the intelligence official said, adding they were confident Russia was behind the widespread hacks.

Despite that claim by an unnamed intelligence official, there is reason to believe that what CrowdStrike has concluded is not accurate. At this point, however, the House Committee and the American people will not see it.

Breitbart News has requested an interview with Dmitri Alperovitch, but at press time there was no response.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence says that initial witness invitation lists “may be expanded or modified as warranted.”

Recruit Russia in the fight against Iran

March 9, 2017

Recruit Russia in the fight against Iran, Israel Hayom, Ariel Bolstein, March 9, 2017

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with Russian President Vladmir Putin in Moscow Thursday takes place at an interesting time.

Russia, which has exhausted its military moves in Syria, is searching for a future strategy that will allow it to integrate into the world of U.S. President Donald Trump. Russia has paid a high price for its confrontation with the West. True, as a result of the United States’ geopolitical retreat under former U.S. President Barack Obama, Russian influence has grown on a few fronts, primarily in the Middle East, but this achievement is not worth much without American recognition of Russia’s new-old status as a world power. The changing of the guard in Washington provided Moscow with a unique opportunity to turn the page on its relationship with the West, but the significance of such a change would also mean concessions on its part.

It seems that Russia may meet Trump halfway on the Iranian issue. Russia did not have much in common with the country of Islamic revolution from the outset, and the collaboration between them stems more from a desire on the part of both countries to challenge the existing world order. Indications of Russia’s openness to the idea of turning its back on Iran have been noted on Russian state television. These channels are full of talk shows that focus on current events, and the variety of voices heard on them is effectively controlled by authorities. In recent weeks, these programs have raised the possibility of placing Iran on the sacrificial altar between Moscow and Washington, and this was received with understanding by a majority of participants. One must remember that Putin and as a result the Russian public are determined to witness Russia’s inclusion in the select club of world powers, but they have no interest in dragging others who also claim the crown along with them, and certainly not Iran.

From Israel’s perspective, Netanyahu is now the only statesman to enjoy the trust of and an unprecedented friendship with both the White House and the Kremlin. Israel has succeeded in preserving its interests in the tempest of upheaval in the Middle East, in large part due to the relationship Netanyahu has forged with Putin. The Russians have been forced to honor Israel’s freedom of action in the region and have come to understand full well Israel’s determination to act whenever Israeli considerations require that it do so.

In the Trump era, Israel’s stock has risen even more in the eyes of the Russians. Moscow could not help but notice the special affinity Trump has shown toward Netanyahu and the feelings of solidarity they share. Israel is clearly not operating within a vacuum — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Russia after Netanyahu, and later in the month, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani will do the same — but those in the Kremlin must understand the differences in influence among these three figures.

The possible resolution in Syria and its de facto division into regions of influence underscores the need to stop the expansion and strengthening of Iran. Russia needs to understand that Hezbollah’s murderousness and lack of humanity is no different from that of the Sunni terrorists it so mercilessly bombed. There should be one law for the Islamic State, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham — formerly Nusra Front — and Hezbollah. If Russia operates according to this principle, its standing and the security of the region will vastly improve.

Report: Trump putting potential diplomatic deal with Russia on the back burner

March 7, 2017

Report: Trump putting potential diplomatic deal with Russia on the back burner, Hot Air, Allahpundit, March 7, 2017

Needless to say, here’s another motive for why anti-Trumpers inside the federal bureaucracy may be leaking at politically inconvenient times for Trump. Reminding the public that some of his aides are under suspicion because of their contacts with Russia is a clever way to force Trump to postpone any planned diplomatic outreach to Russia at moments when he feels his political capital cresting. Trump might eventually be in a position to swing a deal with Moscow, but so long as Russia hawks within the administration are dribbling out material from the investigation that puts a cloud over the White House, it’ll look suspicious for him to make nice with Putin.

And so, inevitably, Trump is reportedly backing away from any “grand bargain” for now.

President Donald Trump is telling advisers and allies that he may shelve, at least temporarily, his plan to pursue a deal with Moscow on the Islamic State group and other national security matters, according to administration officials and Western diplomats…

Trump’s new skepticism about brokering a deal with Moscow also suggests the rising influence of a new set of advisers who have taken a tougher stance on Russia, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and new national security adviser H.R. McMaster. During his first meeting with National Security Council staff, McMaster described Russia — as well as China — as a country that wants to upend the current world order, according to an administration official who attended the meeting…

European allies also have been pushing the Trump administration not to make any early concessions to Russia. To bolster their case, European officials have tailored their rhetoric to appeal to Trump’s business background, including emphasizing the risks of negotiating a bad deal, rather than more nuanced arguments, according to one Western diplomat. Given Trump’s “America First” mantra, foreign officials emphasize how U.S. standing in the world could be diminished by making concessions to Russia instead of focusing on the importance of the U.S. and Europe sticking together to counter Moscow.

The most interesting detail in the AP story: In talks with his staff, Trump supposedly singled out Russia’s violation of the 1987 INF Treaty as making a deal “tougher and tougher to achieve,” a message that’s been relayed to U.S. allies in Europe too. I wrote about that here. It’s genuinely confounding. If Russia wants a compliant Washington, why would it choose to violate the treaty by deploying intermediate-range missiles aimed at Europe when it surely knows that Trump hates being seen as “weak” and won’t look the other way? Putin seemed to understand how to deal with him late last year when he refused to retaliate against the sanctions imposed on Russia by Obama for trying to interfere in the presidential campaign. That was Moscow signaling to the world that it expected those sanctions to be lifted by the new administration unilaterally. (Which was a damning sign of how conciliatory they expected Trump to be, but whatever.) Putin could have responded in kind but instead chose to preserve the status quo on its end as a goodwill gesture to Trump. And Trump appreciated it.

They didn’t preserve the status quo in deploying their missiles, though, a much more provocative way of challenging Trump than reciprocal sanctions would have been. You can cook up a scenario in which Putin violated the treaty in the expectation that he’d use the missiles as a bargaining chip during negotiations to come with the White House. E.g., maybe he thought Trump might bite on a deal that would trade decommissioning the missiles for the lifting of all U.S. sanctions against Russia, including the 2014 measures imposed to punish them over Ukraine. The problem with that theory, though, is that once the missiles are in the field, as they are now, then Trump has already lost face, and regaining it requires a show of strength. The White House may well end up demanding that the missiles be withdrawn as a precondition of negotiations rather than as something to be haggled over during the process. The smart play, it seems, would have been for Putin to roll out the missiles last fall, to defy Obama, and then withdraw them voluntarily after Trump took office as a goodwill gesture, to invite further negotiations. The better behaved Putin seems during Trump’s early presidency, the more Americans might be willing to let Trump negotiate with him to see what else he can get from Russia. Instead, Russia has engaged in various petty provocations, culminating in the more serious escalation of violating the INF Treaty. Why? If it’s true that they were hoping Trump would win the election, how does it make sense to box him in politically so that he can’t make concessions to Moscow without looking horribly weak and corrupt even if he wanted to?

If you want to go full cloak-and-dagger, you could theorize that the missiles were deployed because Russia wants to give Trump a chance to stand up to them. Putin may have concluded that the Kremlin’s interference in the election worked too well insofar as many Americans now suspect that Russia has influence over the president. That makes negotiations hard, even if preceded by unilateral concessions by Moscow. The only way to really create political space for diplomacy under this theory is to manufacture a minor diplomatic confrontation like the INF violation, have Trump demand that the missiles be withdrawn, and then comply in the hope that it’ll convince Americans Trump is being “tough” on Moscow and driving a hard bargain. Once Trump has earned the trust of his own doubters here at home, he’ll be free to make a sweetheart deal with Putin. That theory’s hard to buy, though: Putin needs to look tough to Russians even more so than Trump needs to look tough to Americans, and toughness typically doesn’t involve backing down in a (manufactured) confrontation. Plus, given the shift in Russian media lately, it seems as though the Kremlin is sincerely warier of Trump lately than it used to be. If they’ve already decided that Trump will be more of an enemy than a friend, it’ll be the quickest reassessment by a foreign power in modern history.

If you want a glimpse of what Europe’s future might look like if Trump doesn’t get Putin to withdraw those missiles, go read this. Exit question: If you subscribe to the theory that Russia was/is all-in for Trump as president, how do you explain the fact that Trump now feels unable, however temporarily, to approach Moscow for a deal? Did the Russian interference succeed so well that it’s made cooperation impossible? On what planet does that constitute “success”?

US armored column at Manbij to block Russians

March 6, 2017

US armored column at Manbij to block Russians, DEBKAfile, March 6, 2017

But now, as Russian units geared up to enter Manjib, the Trump administration warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that if they did move in, they would face American forces.

The Trump administration has thus taken its first direct military action in Syria to cut off the expansion of Russian forces in the North.

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The Pentagon announced Tuesday, March 6, that a US armored convoy was deployed around the disputed northern Syrian town of Manbij, and in an unusual move, released a video depicting the convoy and its men.

A US military spokesman tweeted that the US deployment was a deliberate action taken to assure that forces within the US-led coalition deterred aggression and kept the focus on defeating ISIS.

Affirming that the US-led coalition was aware of the location of Russian-backed Syrian forces, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters Monday.

“They are certainly aware of where we are, and we are aware of where they are. There is no intention between the two of there being any conflict against any party other than ISIS.”

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the US armored force landed in the middle of a complicated crisis around the important town of Manjib, ever since a mixed Kurdish-Syrian Arab force captured it from ISIS last year with US air and military support.

A few days ago, the Kurdish YPG militia handed over some of the villages and military positions around the town to Russian and Syrian army units, as we revealed in an article (Monday, March 5) on ramped-up Russian-Iranian military cooperation in Syria, in the absence of American moves.

But now, as Russian units geared up to enter Manjib, the Trump administration warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that if they did move in, they would face American forces.

The Trump administration has thus taken its first direct military action in Syria to cut off the expansion of Russian forces in the North.

Our military sources reveal that the Russian units assigned to Manjib consist mainly of a Chechen commando brigade brought over by Moscow three months ago.

Our sources added:  Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump phoned Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu while he was being questioned by the police at his residence. That call almost certainly dealt with the possibility of a US-Russian military clash in Manjib, two days before Netanyahu sets out of Moscow for talks with the Russian president.

#ObamaGate Is a Lot More than a Hashtag

March 6, 2017

#ObamaGate Is a Lot More than a Hashtag, PJ MediaRoger L Simon, March 5, 2017

(Please see also, Yes, There Could Be Serious Legal Problems if Obama Admin Involved in Illegal Surveillance. — DM)

obama_security_risk_feature_4-11-16-1-sized-770x415xt

If I were a Democrat, I’d be afraid.  I’d be very afraid.

Forget the usual smokescreen of hyper-partisan blather from Chuck Schumer on “Meet the Press” or the myriad calls for Trump’s head from the usual press suspects and consider the situation:  Congressional committees, the FBI, not to mention numerous avid media organizations and who knows who else (NSA? CIA? ASPCA?) have been investigating putative Trump-Russia collusion for some time now and come up with… exactly nothing.

Are they likely to come up with something of significance at this point?  Almost certainly not.

So now we have Trump’s bold, brash, “unhinged” Twitter accusations that Obama wiretapped him.  This came after Mark Levin, Breitbart, Andrew C. McCarthy, Louise Mensch and others I’ve forgotten about or am unaware of reported about two appeals to FISA courts (one denied last summer and one approved in October) for permission to tap phones in Trump Tower. Did they happen?

It seems that tapping of some sort actually occurred because it was virtually acknowledged  in tweets from Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau,  who sprang to action only hours after Trump tweeted, writing : “I’d be careful about reporting that Obama said there was no wiretapping. Statement just said that neither he nor the WH ordered it.” Kevin Lewis, a spokesman for the former president, had almost simultaneously declared:  “Neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U. S. citizen.”  Ordered?  That’s what we used to call plausible deniability and now is known as a wiggle word.

Trump wants this possible surveillance to be investigated along with the rest of the supposed Russia mess — the little that’s left of it to be cleared up.  Meanwhile, that Democratic Party house organ The New York Times is reporting that James Comey himself wants the Justice Department to issue a denial that such a wiretap ever existed — or so the paper’s ubiquitous “sources” say.  Of course the Times itself saw it differently only a couple of months ago. Meanwhile, former DNI James Clapper — who famously told all his fellow citizens a boldface lie about the NSA — has assured the media regarding this particular tap, “I can deny it.” (Yes, you can.)

All this while Barack and Michelle Obama, rather than graciously depart the D. C. scene in the manner of previous presidents, recent ones anyway, have moved into a local estate with their constant companion Valerie Jarrett in some kind of Ménage à Medici as if Barack never had an intention to leave and expects to serve a third term.

My guess is this will all come down to whether our former president knew about this wiretapping — whoever authorized it and wherever it came from — and, if so, when. And also how he reacted to it and what he did from there.  It’s all, in the grand Clintonian tradition, about what the definition of “ordered” is.

Interviewed on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Tom Cotton — as close an approximation to “Mr. Smith” as we have in Congress — was asked if the Senate Intelligence panel would address Trump’s wiretapping claim and his answer was a Jimmy Stewart-like “sure.”

Now to why, if I were a Democrat, I’d be afraid.  To explore that you don’t need to be some super-experienced attorney like Andrew McCarthy, although that doesn’t hurt.  Rusty old Occam’s Razor will do — just change the blade and ask some obvious questions somehow overlooked by the MSM in this weekend’s chat shows.  These questions, needless to say, might best be asked under oath by a congressional committee. Later, they might even have to be dealt with in a court of law, as attorney Robert Barnes details well in this article.

Would an attorney general (in this case Loretta Lynch) normally inform the White House of a decision to go to a FISA court for approval of the tapping of a political presidential opponent?  Did Ms. Lynch so inform the White House?  Was there any discussion of this decision between the WH and the DOJ?  Why did the Justice Department decide to go back to the FISA court in October for a second try at approval? Whose idea was that? Did they did have additional information?  What was that?  Was Trump’s name included in the brief the first time but omitted in the second?  Why?  If none of this happened, who made it up and why?  That makes no sense, considering how easy it would be to disprove. Unless, of course, although it’s not supposed to happen, the NSA just regularly taps everything and everybody, including presidential candidates, the president elect, and the president himself.  But why then on Jan 12 of this year, again according to the New York Times, did the Obama administration suddenly broadly extend the powers of the NSA?

I could go on, but you get the point.  The possibilities here are endless. And WikiLeaks already revealed Obama’s extensive use of wiretaps.  It’s a long list.  Nothing particularly new here except this one, if it happened, was aimed at his most important adversary in our democratic republic, threatening the very underpinnings of our country and making Nixon seem like an amateur.  No doubt the Democrats will hide behind national security, but that can only go on for so long.  People in leadership positions like Sen. Cotton are entitled to the facts — and they will get them eventually, perhaps quickly since this is a Trump administration finally, even if so many appointments are being held up.  Also — and this is what the sleaze-artists like Schumer and my own Rep. Adam Schiff know well — Trump has obviously been wiretapped up the you-know-what, probably from numerous sources.  If not, where have all these leaks come from?  Mars?

Yes, There Could Be Serious Legal Problems if Obama Admin Involved in Illegal Surveillance

March 5, 2017

Opinion | Yes, There Could Be Serious Legal Problems if Obama Admin Involved in Illegal Surveillance, Law Newz, March 4, 2017

(Speculative, because fewer than all pertinent facts are now available. However, it’s an interesting legal analysis.– DM)

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President Trump recently tweeted claiming that former President Obama wiretapped him during his campaign. One can only imagine how nuts the media would have gone if the roles had been reversed: President Trump wiretapping either Obama or the Clintons, though his DOJ could have authority to do just that given the expansive leaks of intelligence information by Obama and Clinton supporters the last few months. Heck, he could wiretap the media at this point, legally and legitimately, as the sources of these unlawful leaks, for which Obama himself set precedent. Do liberals understand what Pandora’s Box Obama opened up by Obama using the powers of the NSA, CIA and FBI to spy on his political opponents? Even Nixon never did that.

If the stories are correct, Obama or his officials might even face prosecution. But, we are still early in all of this and there are a lot of rumors flying around so the key is if the reports are accurate. We just don’t know at this time. The stories currently are three-fold: first, that Obama’s team tried to get a warrant from a regular, Article III federal court on Trump, and was told no by someone along the way (maybe the FBI), as the evidence was that weak or non-existent; second, Obama’s team then tried to circumvent the federal judiciary’s independent role by trying to mislabel the issue one of “foreign agents,” and tried to obtain a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act “courts”, and were again turned down, when the court saw Trump named (an extremely rare act of FISA court refusal of the government, suggesting the evidence was truly non-existent against Trump); and so, third, Obama circumvented both the regular command of the FBI and the regularly appointed federal courts, by placing the entire case as a FISA case (and apparently under Sally Yates at DOJ) as a “foreign” case, and then omitted Trump’s name from a surveillance warrant submitted to the FISA court, which the FISA court unwittingly granted, which Obama then misused to spy on Trump and many connected to Trump. Are these allegations true? We don’t know yet, but if any part of them are than Obama and/or his officials could face serious trouble.

Can a President be charged with a crime? Only once out of office. While in office, impeachment remains the exclusive remedy in order to avoid a single judicial branch trying to overturn an election, such as a grand jury in any part of the country could. Once out of office, a President remains immune from civil liability for his duties while President, under a 1982 decision of the United States Supreme Court. However, as the Nixon pardon attests, nothing forecloses a criminal prosecution of the President after his presidency is complete for crimes against the country. Obama, the Constitutional lawyer, should know that.

What crimes could have been committed? Ironically, for Democrats falsely accusing Attorney General Sessions, perjury and conspiracy to commit perjury, as well as intentional violations of FISA. Rather shockingly, no law currently forbids misusing the power of the presidency to spy on one’s adversaries. What the law does forbid is lying to any judicial officer to obtain any means of surveillance. What the law does forbid, under criminal penalty, is the misuse of FISA. Both derive from the protections of the Fourth Amendment itself. Under section 1809, FISA makes it a crime for anyone to either “engage in” electronic surveillance under “color of law” under FISA without following the law’s restrictions, or “disclose” or “use” information gathered from it in contravention of the statute’s sharp constrictions.

FISA, 50 USC 1801, et seq., is a very limited method of obtaining surveillance authority. The reason for its strict limits is that FISA evades the regular federal court process, by not allowing regularly, Constitutionally appointed federal judges and their magistrates to authorize surveillance the Fourth Amendment would otherwise forbid. Instead, the Chief Justice handpicks the FISA court members, who have shown an exceptional deference to the executive branch. This is because FISA court members trust the government is only bringing them surveillance about pending terror attacks or “grave hostile” war-like attacks, as the FISA statute limits itself to. Thus, a FISA application can only be used in very limited circumstances.

One important reminder about electronic surveillance. Occasionally, a law enforcement officer will hear or see or record information not allowed by the warrant, but incidental or accidental to otherwise lawful surveillance. Their job is to immediately stop listening, stop recording, and to delete such information. This is what you occasionally see in films where the agent in the van hears the conversation turn away from something criminal to a personal discussion, and the agent then turns off the listening device and stops the recording. Such films simply recognize long-standing legal practice.

FISA can only be used for “foreign intelligence information.” Now that sounds broad, but is in fact very limited under the law. The only “foreign intelligence information” allowed as a basis for surveillance is information necessary to protect the United States against actual or potential “grave” “hostile” attack, war-like sabotage or international terror. Second, it can only be used to eavesdrop on conversations where the parties to the conversation are a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power. An agent of a foreign power cannot be a United States person unless they are knowingly involved in criminal espionage. No warrant is allowed on that person unless a FISA court finds probable cause the United States person is knowingly engaged in criminal espionage. Even then, if it involves a United States person, special steps must be taken to “minimize the acquisition and retention, and prohibit the dissemination, of non publicly available information concerning un-consenting United States persons.”

This includes procedures that require they never identify the person, or the conversation, being surveilled, to the public where that information is not evidence of a particular crime. Third, the kind of information sought concerns solely information about a pending or actual attack on the country. That is why the law limits itself to sabotage incidents involving war, not any form or kind of “sabotage,” explicitly limiting itself to those acts identified in section 105 of Title 18 of the United States Code.

This bring us to Watergate-on-Steroids, or #ObamaGate. Here are the problematic aspects of the Obama surveillance on Trump’s team, and on Trump himself. First, it is not apparent FISA could ever be invoked. Second, it is possible Obama’s team may have perjured themselves before the FISA court by withholding material information essential to the FISA court’s willingness to permit the government surveillance. Third, it could be that Obama’s team illegally disseminated and disclosed FISA information in direct violation of the statute precisely prohibiting such dissemination and disclosure. FISA prohibits, under criminal penalty, Obama’s team from doing any of the three.

At the outset, the NSA should have never been involved in a domestic US election. Investigating the election, or any hacking of the DNC or the phishing of Podesta’s emails, would not be a FISA matter. It does not fit the definition of war sabotage or a “grave” “hostile” war-like attack on the United States, as constrictively covered by FISA. It is your run-of-the-mill hacking case covered by existing United States laws that require use of the regular departments of the FBI, Department of Justice, and Constitutionally Senate-appointed federal district court judges, and their appointed magistrates, not secretive, deferential FISA courts.

Out of 35,000+ requests for surveillance, the FISA court has only ever rejected a whopping 12. Apparently, according to published reports, you can add one more to that — even the FISA court first rejected Obama’s request to spy on Trump’s team under the guise of an investigation into foreign agents of a pending war attack, intelligence agents apparently returned to the court, where, it is my assumption, that they did not disclose or divulge all material facts to the court when seeking the surveillance the second time around, some of which they would later wrongfully disseminate and distribute to the public. By itself, misuse of FISA procedures to obtain surveillance is itself, a crime.

This raises the second problem: Obama’s team submission of an affidavit to to the FISA court. An application for a warrant of any kind requires an affidavit, and that affidavit may not omit material factors. A fact is “material” if it could have the possible impact of impacting the judicial officer deciding whether to authorize the warrant. Such affidavits are the most carefully drawn up, reviewed, and approved affidavits of law enforcement in our system precisely because they must be fully-disclosing, forthcoming, and include any information a judge must know to decide whether to allow our government to spy on its own. My assumption would be that intelligence officials were trying to investigate hacking of DNC which is not even a FISA covered crime, so therefore serious questions arise about what Obama administration attorneys said to the FISA court to even consider the application. If the claim was “financial ties” to Russia, then Obama knew he had no basis to use FISA at all.

Since Trump was the obvious target, the alleged failure to disclose his name in the second application could be a serious and severe violation of the obligation to disclose all material facts. Lastly, given the later behavior, it is evident any promise in the affidavit to protect the surveilled information from ever being sourced or disseminated was a false promise, intended to induce the illicit surveillance. This is criminalized both by federal perjury statutes, conspiracy statutes, and the FISA criminal laws themselves.

That raises the third problem: it seems the FISA-compelled protocols for precluding the dissemination of the information were violated, and that Obama’s team issued orders to achieve precisely what the law forbids, if published reports are true about the administration sharing the surveilled information far-and-wide to promote unlawful leaks to the press. This, too, would be its own crime, as it brings back the ghost of Hillary’s emails — by definition, FISA information is strictly confidential or it’s information that never should have been gathered. FISA strictly segregates its surveilled information into two categories: highly confidential information of the most serious of crimes involving foreign acts of war; or, if not that, then information that should never have been gathered, should be immediately deleted, and never sourced nor disseminated. It cannot be both.

Recognizing this information did not fit FISA meant having to delete it and destroy it. According to published reports, Obama’s team did the opposite: order it preserved, ordered the NSA to search it, keep it, and share it; and then Obama’s Attorney General issued an order to allow broader sharing of information and, according to the New York Times, Obama aides acted to label the Trump information at a lower level of classification for massive-level sharing of the information. The problem for Obama is simple — if it could fit a lower level of classification, then it had to be deleted and destroyed, not disseminated and distributed, under crystal clear FISA law. Obama’s team’s admission it could be classified lower, yet taking actions to insure its broadest distribution, could even put Obama smack-middle of the biggest unlawful surveillance and political-opponent-smear campaign since Nixon. Except even Nixon didn’t use the FBI and NSA for his dirty tricks.

Watergate would have never happened if Nixon felt like he could just ask the FBI or NSA to tape the calls. This is Hoover-esque abuses of the kind Bob Woodward pal, former FBI Assistant Director Mark Felt (otherwise known as Deep Throat), routinely engaged in at the FBI until convicted and removed from office. (You didn’t know that Deep Throat was really a corrupt part of Deep State, did you? Guess who ran the famous COINTELPRO? That’s right — Deep Throat. How would the public have reacted if they knew the media had been in bed with the deep state all the way back then? Maybe that was the reason Woodward, Bernstein and Bradley kept Deep Throat’s identity secret all those years?)

Democrats may regret Sessions’ recusal, as his replacement is a mini-Sessions: a long-respected, a-political, highly ethical prosecutor, Dana Boente, whose reputation is well-warranted from his service at the Tax Division, and who won’t be limited by any perceived ties to Trump, given his prior appointment by Obama. Obama himself appeared scared of Boente, as he removed Boente from the successor-to-Sessions position during the lame-duck part of Obama’s presidency, but Trump restored Boente to that role earlier this month. Democrats may get the investigation they wanted, but it may be their own that end up named in the indictment.

Robert Barnes is a California-based trial attorney whose practice focuses on tax defense, civil rights and First Amendment law. You can follow him at @Barnes_Law

Putin ramps up Syria pact with Iran in US absence

March 5, 2017

Putin ramps up Syria pact with Iran in US absence, DEBKAfile, March 5, 2017

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Constantly bombarded by allegations that his campaign associated with Russian intelligence, US President Donald Trump has held back from going through with his original plan for teaming up with Moscow in Syria for the important campaigns of wiping out the Islamic State and relieving Syria of Iran’s iron grip.

His entire Middle East policy is up in the air, while he grapples with domestic foes. The much talked-of US coalition with its regional allies, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Israel, is also in abeyance.

Amid the uncertainty about the Trump administration’s future steps, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is unlikely to make much headway in his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday, March 9,

DEBKAfile’s intelligence and military sources report that, even if does persuade Putin to stick to his promise to prevent Iran and Hizballah from deploying troops on the Syrian-Israeli border opposite the Golan, he won’t get far in his bid to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military and naval presence in Syria.

This is the situation stacking up against Netanyahu:

1. The Trump administration has decided not to decide on Middle East policy – and Syria, in particular – while engaged in dodging his domestic enemies’ Russian arrows.

2. Some of the president’s advisers maintain that the state of indecision in Washington may turn out into an advantage. It might not be a bad thing for Moscow to carry the heavy lifting of tackling ISIS, Iran and Hizballah, rather than putting US troops in harm’s way.

3. Putin is not waiting for Trump and is already on the move, DEBKAfile’s sources report.

Friday, March 3, Russian special operations units recovered the Syrian town of Palmyra from the Islamic State.

That day too, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), composed predominantly of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and Arab tribesmen from the north, agreed to hand over their positions in the strategic town of Manjib to the Russians and the Syrian army,

The SDF was created, trained, armed and funded by the United States as the potential spearhead force for the offensive against the Islamic State. This force was able to last year to capture the small (pop: 50,000) northern town of Manjib, 30km west of the Euphrates, thanks only to US aerial bombardments of ISIS positions and American advisers.

How come that this important US ally suddenly surrendered its positions to the Russians and Assad’s army?

There is more than one reason. Firstly, the SDF’s Kurdish and Arab commanders apparently decided to give up on waiting for Washington to come round, especially since the only weapons they had received from the Obama administration for fighting ISIS were Kalashnikov AK-74 rifles.

Moreover, the Kurds’ most implacable arch enemy is breathing down their necks. On March 1, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan threatened to order his army, which has occupied northern Syria since last year, to seize Manjib. He said: “Manjib is a city that belongs to the Arabs and the SDF must not be in Raqqa either.”

The Kurdish-Arab force decided to take the Turkish leader at his word. Believing him to be close to Trump, its leaders decided their services were being dispensed with. They saw no point therefore in wasting and risking their troops in battles in the US interest.  In this situation, Moscow looked like a better bet.

DEBKAfile’s military sources stress that, when the Russians say they are working with the Syrian army, they really mean the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the pro-Iranian Shiite militias and Hizballah, because most Syrian army’s units were decimated by nearly six years of civil war, or exist only on paper.

That being so, even if Putin does promise Netanyahu to distance Iranian and pro-Iranian troops from the Syrian-Israeli border, he may not be in a position to honor his pledge. With the Americans far away, they are Russia’s main partners on the ground for achieving his future goals in Syria.