You have to hand it to him. Adam Schiff has done a pretty good job of using outright, bald faced deception to make it sound like Devin Nunes has done something wrong – and that President Trump is therefore also guilty. But it’s starting to unravel.
Devin Nunes handled the whole info thing somewhat clumsily from a public perspective but he may well have had little choice.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Devin Nunes and Adam Schiff are both members of the Gang of Eight. The Gang of Eight is made up of the leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties from both the House and Senate, along with head members of House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Specifically, House and Senate members holding the following positions are automatically members of the Gang of Eight:
- The Chairperson of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence – Devin Nunes (R)
- The Minority leader of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence – Adam Schiff (D)
- The Chairperson of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence – Richard Burr (R)
- The minority leader of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence – Mark Warner (D)
- The Majority Leader of the Senate – Mitch McConnell (R)
- The Minority Leader of the Senate – Chuck Schumer (D)
- The Speaker of the House – Paul Ryan (R)
- The Minority Leader of the House – Nancy Pelosi (D)
The Gang of Eight (GO8) are briefed on classified intelligence matters by the Executive Branch and are responsible for Congressional oversight of all Intelligence Agencies. They are the “Checks and Balances” for the Intelligence aspect of our government. Anything intelligence-related must be shown to this committee. If there is a U.S. covert operation, these members know of it and approved it. It is a very powerful committee.
The United States has numerous intelligence agencies – 16 of them in fact. But – and this is a big But – only six of them actually gather intelligence. The rest simply “process” and use the intelligence gathered by the primary agencies. For example, the Department of State has an intelligence arm – the Bureau of Intelligence and Research – but the DOS/BIR does not gather intelligence, it uses and processes intelligence. You may find a full listing and description of the various intelligence agencies here. The intelligence gathering entities are:
- Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) – civilian intelligence, covert ops
- National Security Agency (NSA) – signals intelligence, cryptology, cyber warfare
- National Reconnaissance Unit (NRO) – designs and operates all spy satellites
- National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) – geospatial intelligence modeling, geospatial predictive modeling, combat support – more powerful than commonly perceived
- Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) – defense and military intelligence, black ops
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) – non-intelligence, but critical law enforcement and counterintelligence.
Each intelligence agency has its own intelligence. This department intelligence is physically held at a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility or SCIF. Each intelligence agency has their own SCIF, as does the White House.
It is often stated that the U.S. has 17 intelligence agencies but this is not factually correct. The “17th Agency”, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is really an intelligence oversight office.
“The Director of National Intelligence serves as the head of the Intelligence Community, overseeing and directing the implementation of the National Intelligence Program and acting as the principal advisor to the President, the National Security Council, and the Homeland Security Council for intelligence matters related to national security. The Office of the DNI’s goal is to effectively integrate foreign, military and domestic intelligence in defense of the homeland and of United States interests abroad.”
Daniel Coats was sworn in as the fifth Director of National Intelligence (DNI) on March 16, 2017. James Clapper was the Director of National Intelligence from August 9, 2010 to January 20, 2017 when his resignation took effect. The DNI is a political appointment made by the serving President. DNI James Clapper was appointed by Obama. This is a central, pivotal position for intelligence summarization.
Several items reported earlier by the Conservative Treehouse (a blog that has proven continuously prescient) may help set the stage for what follows.
“On November 17th, 2016, NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers went to see President-Elect Donald Trump in Trump Tower, New York. Director Rogers did not inform his boss DNI, James Clapper.”
“On November 18th, 2016, the Trump Transition Team announced they were moving all transition activity to Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.”
“On November 18th The Washington Post reported on a recommendation in “October” that Mike Rogers be removed from his NSA position.”
Now, back to Devin Nunes and the current intelligence turmoil. On Tuesday, March 21 2017, Devin Nunes met a classified source. As described by the New York Times:
“Mr. Nunes received a call from a person he has described only as a source. The call came as he was riding across town with a staff member in an Uber vehicle. Mr. Nunes quickly got out of the car and went to the White House. There, he has said he reviewed “dozens” of intelligence reports. He said he needed a secure location where people with security clearances could legally view classified information, though such facilities could also be found in the Capitol building and at other locations across Washington. The next day, Mr. Nunes gave a news briefing at the Capitol and then returned to the White House to brief Mr. Trump on the information before telling other committee members about what he had reviewed.”
And all hell broke loose. For a historical summation of the timeline of “wire-tap” events – starting with Trump’s wiretap tweet – see here.
A very important point was made in an excellent article – Understanding the Nunes Paradox. Gang of Eight members can request information from each intelligence agency BUT they cannot access summarized data – such as the Presidential Daily Briefings – from the various intelligence agencies. The only place summarized intelligence exists would be the final destination of the summarized intelligence. The Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) is assembled from multi-agency intelligence by the Director of National Intelligence. I do not know if the DNI keeps archives of the PDBs. The White House does keep PDB archives.
This could explain why Devin Nunes went to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB) Information Facility at the White House. In fact, the EEOB is perhaps the only place Nunes could have ended up. There is some speculation that Nunes reviewed Obama’s Presidential Daily Briefings – and that certainly makes sense on a number of fronts. The most obvious being, the EEOB is the only SCIF where Presidential Briefings would be physically held – they would exist no place else as they are summarizations. There is another possible reason why Nunes ended up at the EEOB. Where else could Nunes actually safely/secretly meet with his source and review classified data at the same time? He needed a secure facility that was NOT located at one of the various intelligence agencies.
Meanwhile, Adam Schiff has been publicly pressuring and chastising Nunes – and Democrats have been calling for Nunes to step down from the GO8 investigating intelligence committee. Schiff had made it known that he had not been briefed immediately by Nunes nor had he seen the classified material Nunes saw. Schiff has continuously portrayed the situation as one where he is somehow being blocked by the White House from viewing the same documents as Nunes. Unfortunately for Schiff and other Democrats, there’s a significant problem with that line of argument. Nothing was stopping Schiff from going to the EEOB and witnessing the documents himself. Nothing. Schiff is one of the very few people – as a member of the GO8 – who has the requisite security clearance and could view those documents at will.
But of course, Schiff had motivation not to see the intelligence. If he did, he knew it would be difficult or impossible for him to keep up the simultaneous attacks on Nunes’ behavior, the Russian Conspiracy claims – and denials of the Obama Administration’s surveillance. Adam Schiff has been playing a very duplicitous public game throughout this entire affair – one the White House was content to allow – for a few days.
On March 30, 2017, a New York Times article claimed to have been given the names of Nunes’ source for the classified information. Specifically, “Several current American officials identified the White House officials as Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who works on national security issues at the White House Counsel’s Office and was previously counsel to Mr. Nunes’ committee.”
The same day the Times article came out, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh was summarily and suddenly fired. Katie Walsh is a friend of Maggie Habermann – one of the NYT’s reporters that “identified” Nunes’ supposed sources – almost certainly erroneously so.
As noted in a local video interview on Friday March 31, 2017, Nunes noted that the NYT article was “mostly wrong”, that the situation is something Nunes “has known about for a very long time” and that the classified information “had nothing to do with Russia”. He also notes the erroneous media reporting and how he has been ignored when he provided corrections to the MSM. Give the video interview a watch. It’s a short four minute sit-down interview with his constituent hometown news. It’s very worthwhile.
The White House, meanwhile, allowed this series of events to unfold and then sent a public letter inviting Adam Schiff and Mark Warner to review the same documents that Nunes had seen. This tactic left Schiff with no recourse other than accepting the invitation – something it’s clear Schiff did not want to do. Again, Schiff could have seen these documents earlier – at any point had he wanted to. He did not need an invitation.
After viewing the documents Schiff put out the following statement:
“Today my staff director and I reviewed materials at the White House,” the statement read. “It was represented to me that these are precisely the same materials that were provided to the Chairman over a week ago. While I cannot discuss the content of the documents, if the White House had any concern over these materials, they should have been shared with the full committees in the first place as a part of our ordinary oversight responsibilities.”
“Nothing I could see today warranted a departure from the normal review procedures,” it continued, “and these materials should now be provided to the full membership of both committees. The White House has yet to explain why senior White House staff apparently shared these materials with but one member of either committee, only for their contents to be briefed back to the White House.”
Note the italicized portions. Schiff is referring to the House and Senate Select Intelligence committees – not the Gang of Eight. In doing so, Schiff is continuing his pattern of political underhandedness and semantic deception. The Select Intelligence Committee members do not have the same level of security access as the Gang of Eight. The committee members simply do not have the requisite security clearance to be allowed to view the documents. And the “contents” requiring the security clearance can only be kept at the SCIF facility at the White House. Schiff knows this full well. By phrasing his language carefully, Schiff is attempting to make it appear as if the Trump Administration is hiding something. Meanwhile, President Trump had already invited the full Gang of Eight to review the documents.
Lastly, a March 2, 2017 MSNBC interview with Obama’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Evelyn Farkas began to get some belated attention – although it appears clear it had been getting attention at the White House earlier. In the interview, Farkas detailed how the Obama Administration gathered and disseminated intelligence on the Trump Team.
“The Trump folks, if they found out how we knew what we knew about the Trump staff dealing with Russians, that they would try to compromise those sources and methods, meaning we would not longer have access to that intelligence.”
Note that Farkas said “how we knew” not “what we knew”. A crucial distinction. The fact that she had left the Obama Administration to work on Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Campaign only makes it more interesting. This also resulted in a letter from White House counsel – asking for investigation into Farkas’ comments.
On Friday March 31, 2017 a Fox News report by Adam Housley cited numerous unnamed intelligence sources with direct knowledge of events.
Per Fox’s Adam Housley, Watnick and Ellis were not the sources – although they did help Nunes navigate through the intelligence. Comments made by Nunes seem to agree with this assessment. President Trump appears to have leaked these names internally in an attempt to discern who would leak them externally. With the sudden firing of Katie Walsh it looks like he found out. The true intelligence source is still unknown although there is a likely candidate.
According to the Fox Report, surveillance appears to have started before Trump was the official GOP nominee. The person who did the unmasking is “very well-known, very high up, very senior in the intelligence world and is not in the FBI”. Surveillance of other Americans occurred as well and resulted in multiple names being unmasked. The surveillance had nothing to do with Russia nor did the classified data Nunes reviewed. Multiple Intelligence Agencies refused access to Nunes. Lastly, Nunes learned of the surveillance back in January prior to Trump’s infamous tweet claiming surveillance by Obama. Some of this would appear to be confirmed by the March 31, 2017 video interview with Nunes that I linked earlier. here are some quotes from the Fox News reporting:
“Our sources, who have direct knowledge of what took place, were upset because those two individuals, they say, had nothing to do with the outing of this information,”
“We’ve learned that the surveillance that led to the unmasking started way before President Trump was even the GOP nominee. The person who did the unmasking, I’m told, is very well known, very high up, very senior in the intelligence world and is not in the FBI.”
“This led to other surveillance which led to multiple names being unmasked. Again these are private citizens in the United States. This had nothing to do with Russia, I’m told, or foreign intelligence of any kind.”
“It took, obviously, a number of weeks to try to figure out a way for him [Nunes] to see this intelligence, because the agencies were stonewalling, we’re told, to allow him and others to see it. This is all coming from folks that are in these agencies and frustrated with the politics that is taking place in these agencies.”
“We’re told that the main issue here is not only the unmasking of the names, but the spreading of names for political purposes that have nothing to do with national security and everything to do with hurting and embarrassing Trump and his team,”
“Fox also learned from an individual with direct knowledge that after Nunes had been approached by his source, the agencies basically would not allow him in at all,”
What to make of all this given the almost complete lack of media reporting on the above matters, coupled with the level of parsing and double-speak emanating from Adam Schiff?
Devin Nunes has found some real and important information that relates to the unmasking of American citizens.
The information is not related to Russia and appears to be politically motivated.
The Intelligence Agencies appear to be – at least partially – conspiring against Nunes and President Trump.
Nunes is prohibited by law from going wide with this information.
The Gang of Eight members can all see this information but the rest of the House and Senate cannot legally do so at this time due to insufficient security clearance.
It is unclear to me if other GO8 members besides Nunes and Schiff have seen the info. If not, why?
Schiff now knows what the information is but has been very careful – and seemingly duplicitous – in portraying and characterizing the information.
Katie Walsh has likely been the source – or one of them – of White House leaks.
The media has steadfastly refused to report these developments and have focused almost solely on Nunes and the White House.
Obama has been suspiciously quiet during this whole process.
James Clapper as Obama’s Director of National Intelligence has to rank as a possible suspect for the act of unmasking. Ex-CIA Director Brennan could be another possibility. Ex-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and Ex-Attorney General Loretta Lynch may figure into all this as well.
Michael Rogers of the NSA makes a good candidate for Nunes’ source.
Clapper, Brennan and Rogers are simply guesses on my part. But they feel like good guesses.
My guess is the Democrats’ narrative will begin to unravel in the next few days. I am expecting a good deal of backpedaling from them soon. We shall see what transpires.
Strange and wild times.
Update: Mike Cernovich and Eli Lake (Bloomberg) are reporting that Obama’s “former National Security Adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter”.
“White House lawyers last month discovered that the former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.”
“The pattern of Rice’s requests was discovered in a National Security Council review of the government’s policy on “unmasking” the identities of individuals in the U.S. who are not targets of electronic eavesdropping, but whose communications are collected incidentally. Normally those names are redacted from summaries of monitored conversations and appear in reports as something like “U.S. Person One.” The National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, was conducting the review, according to two U.S. officials.”
The National Security Advisor, officially known as the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, serves as a chief advisor to the President of the United States on national security issues and serves on the National Security Council. Importantly, the National Security Advisor is a senior Presidential Aide and is based at the West Wing of the White House.
If Susan Rice is indeed the unmasker, this news is highly significant. As a top Presidential Aide and close advisor to Obama it would seem almost impossible for Rice to have taken this action without authorization – official or unofficial – from President Obama.
If Susan Rice ordered the unmasking, President Obama had to know about – or have ordered it.