“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Of Course, US Intelligence Services Were Spying on Trump

Armerding: Obama's denial misses key questions about surveillance of Trump

But that is a typical “straw man” allegation -- a blatant diversion from what should be a substantive discussion, and investigation, into government surveillance of Trump and those close to him.

Unfortunately for Trump, he has no one but himself to blame for the diversion. He caused it. It was Trump who made the accusation, in yet another of his tweet-storms, putting the focus on what is almost surely not true but is also essentially irrelevant.

He is the one who handed a straw man to his opponents, which they could easily and scornfully swat down with the enthusiastic assistance of a compliant and selectively blind media.

Hence, for the past few weeks, we have all been fed a steady diet of modifiers -- the accusation is “baseless,” “unsubstantiated,” “unsupported,” “without evidence,” etc.

Hence an Obama spokesman could issue a carefully worded denial: “Neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen.”

And with that, we’re all supposed to think there is nothing more to say on the topic.

Which, on this single, specific, irrelevant question – did Obama “order” a wiretap on Trump? – is true. Of course he didn’t.

But that is not, or shouldn’t be, the point. The point is, the fact that Obama didn’t order it doesn’t mean it, or some very similar level of surveillance, didn’t happen. Presidents don’t directly issue such orders. All of that stuff happens in ways that allow a president to claim his hands are clean; it’s done in the classified, clandestine world of our intelligence agencies and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court.

Even Jon Favreau, a former Obama speechwriter, tweeted a warning to the press not to expand on the denial’s exact wording: “I’d be careful about reporting that Obama said there was no wiretapping. Statement just said that neither he nor the WH ordered it.”

So, the relevant question is: How much, when and what kind of surveillance have Trump and his associates been under for the past year or more?

The likely answer to that is quite a lot. Because there is already evidence.
Indeed, since before the president took office, the “intelligence community” has been publicly offering proof that Trump and his team have been under surveillance, through a series of selective leaks about contacts with Russian officials. One leak was used to take out former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Another was aimed at undermining Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The New York Times reported in January that U.S. intelligence agencies were examining “intercepted communications” in connection with their investigation into “possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump.”

Gee, what’s another word for “intercepted communications”?

Before Trump took office, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer confirmed indirectly on national television that Trump and his people had been under surveillance by U.S. spy agencies.

“Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” he told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, after Trump’s had criticized the agencies.

How would they be able to do that without the multiple tools of surveillance, which include tapping phones?

Then there is the Obama track record. It is now well known that his Justice Department secretly subpoenaed the private phone records of Associated Press editors and reporters. Fox News reporter James Rosen and his family were wiretapped.

Former CBS news reporter Sharyl Attkisson sued the government for hacking her computer after she began filing stories about the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi that were unflattering to the administration.

These targets are all American citizens. I’m willing to bet that Obama didn’t directly “order” that their communications be wiretapped. I’m also willing to bet that such a technicality doesn’t matter a bit to any of them. What matters is that it happened, on Obama’s watch.

Then there is James Clapper, former director of national intelligence under Obama, who told NBC’s Chuck Todd this past week that there had been no wiretapping of “the president, the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign.”

Sounds pretty airtight. It’s just that Clapper wasn’t the best person for Todd to interview, if the intent was to put a sheen of credibility on all the denials. Clapper famously lied under oath to Congress in 2013 about National Security Agency surveillance of U.S. citizens.

Of course, Todd conveniently neglected to provide that bit of context.
Then there is the, uh, unfortunate timing of the latest Wikileaks document dump, which contains details of the CIA’s covert hacking programs.

Among the revelations is that the agency conducts “false flag” operations in which it uses the “fingerprints” of another organization – possibly a nation state like Russia! – to make it look like the attack came from there.

That, of course, doesn’t prove anything, but it tends to undermine a rating of “high confidence” the agency gave to its assessment that Russian hacking influenced the U.S. presidential election.

Finally, there is William Binney, a former 36-year employee of the NSA who resigned in protest after the agency began spying on Americans as well as foreigners after 9/11. He has been saying for more than a decade what Edward Snowden documented in 2013 – that the NSA was spying on American citizens.
He told US News this past week, “I think the president is absolutely right. His phone calls, everything he did electronically, was being monitored.”

Obama’s denial that he ordered a wiretap on Trump is almost certainly true. But it is so far from the whole truth as to be irrelevant.

Taylor Armerding of Ipswich is an independent columnist. Contact him at


  1. When agencies have unlimited powers to spy, they do. It is technological voyeurism. They spy on wives, lovers and politicians.
    Anyone that believes differently does not understand human behavior and they are clueless about US intelligence agencies, especially the NSA.

    Cryptology is as old as warfare. The NSA appeared in the twentieth century when cryptology was embedded in radio communications
    and the US military started to develop electronic surveillance and used it extensively through the Cold War.

    My participation in electronic surveillance for military purposes extended from 1965 though 1970. It involved anything related to Soviet missile launches. I did this in England, Germany, Greece and Italy.

    We did this under the authority of an act created under the Truman Administration and yes we did misuse it, mostly for entertainment. From England, we picked up HF radio transmissions from a New Jersey oil delivery company whose dispatcher, the wife of the owner, was having an affair with one of the oil delivery drivers. Their intimate conversations were put on a speaker on most mornings when we were having a slow day.

    Most Americans were unaware that we existed, until it was disclosed in 1975 in Senate hearings. ( I left in 1970).

    The NSA was not supposed to be used against Americans until it was authorized by Congress under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978. The Act authorized the creation of secret FISA courts to issue warrants for wiretaps when requested.

    Previously, it was "misused" on Americans during the Viet Nam War. FISA made it legal. Technology and political events evolved and after 911, it was Katy bar the door.

    The idea that the current intelligence behemoth is not misused against American politicians is naive and laughable.

    The Obama Administration used it against Trump because they could. They never expected him to win and never dreamt they would be caught.

  2. Technology changes, but human behavior does not. The behavior of any US politician would be recognizable and familiar to any resident of ancient Rome, if they had a working brain.

  3. They don't get any more political than in Washington and Obama and Clinton were at the top of the food chain. The nonsense about whether Trump has proof or not that he was spied on or "wiretapped" is a red herring.

  4. One hopes Quirk, who was one of the originals here to concern himself with gov't spying, gets this.

    Maybe he'll even give Judge Napolitano a listen.

    1. There's a good chance Quirk does get it, somewherewhen -

      The 3 Ways That Parallel Universes Could Be Real

      In the somewherewhen, does a Quirk exist that doesn't mouth off so much ?

      We have reason to hope....

    2. Questions abound, like parallel universes - is a Quirk that doesn't mouth off still a Quirk ?

      This cosmologist would answer 'yes'.

      Hope lives.

  5. .

    The Obama Administration used it against Trump because they could. They never expected him to win and never dreamt they would be caught.

    Prove it?

    Not innuendo, not suppositions, not 'could have' or possibilities, not 'we can assume', not diversionary crap, just a piece of proof.

    Throw us a bone.

    After Snowden, anyone who didn't know their conversations and e-mails were being scooped up, that foreign governments and agencies even of our closest allies were being monitored, just wasn't paying attention. If you are talking with officials in a foreign country only a fool would think he might not be unintentionally caught up in that surveillance.

    Could the NSA have deliberately targeted Trump or Trump officials. Sure, but that doesn't mean it did. It would require a broad conspiracy not a bunch of bored young guys or voyeurs trying to get a few giggles. The cover up would have to be even bigger.

    That, of course, doesn’t prove anything, but it tends to undermine a rating of “high confidence” the agency gave to its assessment that Russian hacking influenced the U.S. presidential election.

    Irrelevant, as is much of the article above. The author recites all the ills of the intelligence agencies. It's cover. Filler. A diversionary tactic. An obvious one. It does nothing to PROVE Trump's unsubstantiated claims. The only honest part of the comment was, ..of course, doesn’t prove anything...

    The initial claims asserted a crime of major proportions. Even his now watered down claims involve a conspiracy that couldn't be contained among a few people. Leaks would be inevitable.

    The whole article above is nothing but innuendo.

    Trump is the friggin president.

    His hand picked man, Sessions, is running DOJ. All he has to do is ask. Even without his asking, Sessions has already answered, yesterday. When asked if there was any there there, he answered "No".

    This thing has dragged on for 5 weeks. Now, Trump has asked that it continue for a couple more weeks.

    This is an unforced error on Trump's part. As usual, he pushed his mistakes off on others, in this case, Congress. Trumps tweets on this matter, ALL of them, were clear and unambiguous. Now, he and his surrogates are trying to convince us that it all depends on what the meaning of is is.

    In the end, the Trump team will likely say the fact that people like Flynn or Stone, a man who admitted he had a couple conversations with Guccifer 2 during the campaign, got caught up in the intelligence agencies monitoring of Russian officials and that justifies Trump's comments. Bull.

    Trump is a spoiled man-child. He is also the president. It's time he learned that as president his words have meaning, both here and abroad. How can anyone trust his words on significant matters when he is constantly shooting himself in the foot over insignificant (Armerding's word above), diversionary (my word) crap like this?


  6. .

    The nonsense about whether Trump has proof or not that he was spied on or "wiretapped" is a red herring.

    Good lord.

    Are you friggin kidding me? You're basically justifying 'anything' Trump says no matter how ridiculous or irresponsible on the basis of Trump saying it.


    A 'red herring'?




  7. .

    Trump's preliminary budget should be out this morning. Early indications? More guns less butter.

    Likely? Major cuts to important domestic programs to pay for big increases in military and security.

    Expert Opinion (mine): Another bullshit move.


    1. .

      On Tucker Carlson last night, Trump admitted the people who would be hurt by the budget as it stands would be the people who actually put him in office.

      Later, he said that he was going to take care of those people 'through negotiations'.


  8. Keep it 140 characters or less, Q-tweeter.