Tucker Carlson Burns FBI or NSA Intercepts Regarding His 30-Month Pursuit of Face-Time with Vladimir Putin

Last week, I suggested that one possible explanation for Tucker Carlson’s claim to have been spied on by NSA is that he had a back channel with Russian operatives and was trying to get ahead of allegations that he was coordinating with Russian agents.

Particularly if the communications implicating Carlson were damning and potentially illegal, leaking them to him would be an easy way to flip the story, and accuse NSA of spying rather than Carlson of coordinating with Russian agents. Again, that’s all just a hypothetical that might explain Carlson’s claims.

Overnight, Jonathan Swan — who’s a political reporter, not a surveillance reporter — described that sources claimed authorities had obtained communications from Tucker Carlson’s efforts to get an interview with Vladimir Putin. Swan describes that Tucker had two intermediaries with Russia, but they live in the US. (I had hypothesized these might be Ukrainian sources, but Swan suggests they’re Russians.)

Two sources familiar with Carlson’s communications said his two Kremlin intermediaries live in the United States, but the sources could not confirm whether both are American citizens or whether both were on U.S. soil at the time they communicated with Carlson.

Swan doesn’t note that if the surveillance happened in the US, it would have formally been an FBI intercept, not an NSA one (just as the intercepts showing Mike Flynn’s secret back channel with Russia were collected by the FBI). But he does a good job of laying out the most likely ways this happened, which is that the NSA or FBI were surveilling the kind of people they’re supposed to surveil: Russian agents, whether overt or covert.

  • The first — and least likely — scenario is that the U.S. government submitted a request to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor Carlson to protect national security.
  • A more plausible scenario is that one of the people Carlson was talking to as an intermediary to help him get the Putin interview was under surveillance as a foreign agent.
  • In that scenario, Carlson’s emails or text messages could have been incidentally collected as part of monitoring this person, but Carlson’s identity would have been masked in any intelligence reports.
  • In order to know that the texts and emails were Carlson’s, a U.S. government official would likely have to request his identity be unmasked, something that’s only permitted if the unmasking is necessary to understand the intelligence.

The import of the agency involved — FBI or NSA — is that “unmasking” works quite differently for the FBI, which has a duty to guard against spying in this country. FBI agents tracking a known Russian agent might review such communications to find out if a high profile US journalist was being recruited by a known Russia spy. And if this was the FBI, it might explain how it recently became known: because Merrick Garland’s DOJ is trying to disclose all the tracking of journalists that took place under the Trump Administration.

This entire faux scandal feels just like ones that Devin Nunes has twice sown, first when Republican members of Congress got picked up undermining US policy with Bibi Netanyahu, and then again when Trump’s Transition team set up a secret back channel meeting with UAE. Each time Nunes has done this, it was with the seeming intent of flipping the scandalous efforts of Republicans to undermine US policy.

That’s consistent with Tucker’s claim that his source is “in a position to know.”

The whistleblower, who’s in a position to know, repeated back to us information about a story we are working from that could have only come directly from my texts and emails. There’s no other possible source for that information, period. The NSA captured that information without our knowledge and did it for political reasons.

But it also means that, if true, then Tucker and his source — whom Tucker himself suggests had a need to know — just burned intercepts on legitimate surveillance targets from a hostile country.

Plus, there’s a far bigger problem with Tucker’s currently operative story. Jason Leopold liberated Tucker’s FOIA request to obtain what he claims would be proof of this spying. Whether intentionally or because of incompetence, the FOIA was written in such a way that it is guaranteed to fail to find anything, because it uses language that NSA would understand to mean communications targeting Tucker (and, specifically, communications obtained from physical possession of Tucker’s phone).

More interesting than the failure by design is the scope. Tucker believes these sensitive communications — ostensibly a recent effort to set up an interview with Vladimir Putin — extend from January 1, 2019 until June 28, 2021, the date he first revealed this.

That’s thirty months he has been working with Russian back channels, purportedly to set up a meeting with Putin.

That, by itself, may explain why the communications generated further attention (if indeed they did). Thirty months isn’t the pursuit of an interview, it’s a long term relationship. This would look like a recruitment effort, not journalism.

It also explains why, even though Tucker himself is the person who leaked these details (again, burning what by all accounts are legitimate intercept targets), he claims it was an effort to take him off the air. If the FBI believes that Tucker really was pursuing a long-term relationship with Russian agents, then even Fox News might rethink giving him a platform. But that wouldn’t be the content of the communications, per se, but the fact that they appear to have been going on for thirty months.

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27 replies
  1. subtropolis says:

    “This would look like a recruitment effort, not journalism.” I’ll say. Then again, maybe Carlson’s producer, who’d filed the request, had reason to believe that he’d been discussing other interesting subjects — perhaps, even, with people other than the Russians — going back at least as far as that. Who knows what that dirtbag had got up to during Humpty Dumpty’s nightmare time in office? He probably has plenty of reasons to worry that the “deep state” has something on him.

    Not mentioned by Swan is the possibility that one of Carlson’s contacts had simply forwarded one or more of his emails to somebody closer to, or inside, the Kremlin. In which case, we’re back to NSA. And Carlson looks even stupider for having begun squawking about this.

    Last week here, in regard to Carlson’s big reveal, I’d pointed out this nugget:
    – – –
    Katie Arrington, chief information security officer for the Pentagon’s acquisition and sustainment office, was informed May 11 that “her security clearance for access to classified information is being suspended” as “a result of a reported Unauthorized Disclosure of Classified Information and subsequent removal of access by the National Security Agency,” according to a memo made available to Bloomberg News.

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-06-29/top-pentagon-cyber-official-probed-amid-disclosure-concerns
    – – –

    (Arrington, a Republican, served two terms in the SC legislature, then lost a bid for Congress right before being installed at the Pentagon. She’d previously worked for Booz Allen Hamilton.)

    I’ve seen nothing about it since. Would her position would have given her access to something like this? It’s difficult to say, given we don’t know in what manner Carlson’s communications wound up with the government, nor even which agency had them. But the NSA had something to do with yanking her clearance. And I doubt that Arrington was selling secrets to China. Much more likely, imho, was that her Unauthorized Disclosure of Classified Information involved her channeling Devin Nunes by running to Carlson to breathlessly report to him things that she doesn’t fucking understand.

    But that’s just speculation on my part. People are saying, as it were.

    • subtropolis says:

      I wanted to add that Carlson has been saying that a “whistleblower” had revealed this to him. If I’m correct — that it was Katie Arrington — I’d think that she is well and truly fucked. Because that’s not the kind of thing that whistleblower protection is for. By all accounts, it was Carlson, not actual journalists, who’d received this tip. And, as Swan points out, Carlson didn’t even hand it off to actual journalists to run the story down. If Arrington brought this directly to whom she’d thought was the TARGET … I mean, that’s a bad look.

      It’s also ridiculous that, in Carlson’s shifting story, he’s been going on about how his communications had been “leaked”. Yeah, buddy — to you!

      • bmaz says:

        I’d be careful about that speculation. Although, to be fair, Arrington is being represented by Mark Zaid, traditionally known as a whistleblower and security clearance lawyer.

        • subtropolis says:

          It’s 100% speculation, for sure.

          The timing is interesting. Arrington’s security clearance was suspended on May 11, though Bloomberg’s story broke on June 29 — the day after Carlson’s freakout. As I’ve said before, it sure looked as though he were trying to get out in front of something, as though he knew that a story was about to break. Happens all the time.

      • Rayne says:

        I’m skeptical it’s Arrington; her clearance could be yanked because she may be caught up in the leak investigations of Ellis and Patel. And if whomever contacted Carlson claims they’re a whistleblower, they failed to use the appropriate process.

      • subtropolis says:

        All that I’ve seen from him about it was a complaint that the NSA hadn’t yet provided allegations.

  2. BobCon says:

    The executive branch has a lot of restrictions on investigating Nunes due to the Speech or Debate clause. But the House Democratic leadership has very broad authority to investigate members of their own branch. It seems pretty critical that they use it.

    • bmaz says:

      Investigating is not necessarily so much the issue as to the Speech and Debate Clause, so much as the civil and criminal immunity it provides if sued or charged.

      • BobCon says:

        “The executive branch has a lot of restrictions” is still true, though. The scope of what congressional authority can touch is much broader than what the executive branch can touch.

        Congress gets to decide for itself what counts as cause for a search of its own members, and it doesn’t need to involve criminal behavior or standard definitions of national interest. They have the authority to investigate whether Nunes has been following the rules of the HPSCI, for example, and use rules violations as grounds for an investigation of his files and phones. The House Ethics Committee likewise has grounds for very broad investigations that are not subject to usual court oversight.

        • bmaz says:

          How will Congress “investigate” without cooperation or ability to enforce subpoenas (which they have pathetically been unable to do)?

        • Peterr says:

          Poorly.

          This has been another edition of Simple Answers to Simple Questions. (h/t Atrios)

        • BobCon says:

          The House doesn’t need anyone to enforce subpoenas on its own systems anymore than Google needs anyone to enforce subpoenas if it is conducting an internal investigation on an exec and wants to search its own materials.

          The House owns its servers, not Nunes. House-issued phones are the property of the House and individual members can’t block requests for data from providers any more than a 12 year old can stop a parent from getting phone records from ATT.

          HPSCI has strict rules but the enforcement has been lax, as shown by the SCIF stunt during the first impeachment.

          The House doesn’t have authority to conduct investigations with the scope of executive branch national security investigations if Nunes is conducting all of his activities outside of areas of congressional authority. But if he is conducting part of his activities using congressional resources, then congressional leadership needs to do more than wringing their hands like they did when the SCIF was violated.

        • bmaz says:

          Lol, you are severely overestimating Congressional powers if a member is not willing to cooperate.

        • BobCon says:

          The issue revolves around what the House can do regarding its own resources. Both John Conyers and David Schweikert refused to cooperate with ethics investigations, which meant that they did not provide any testimony, but they were unable to block access to their US House records.

          In other cases where US Rep’s investigation has depended on outside records or the cooperation of non-congressional witnesses, refusal to cooperate has had more success. The ethics investigation of Chris Collins for insider trading is an example, although even the refusal of Collins to cooperate, along with many others outside of Congress, the investigators were able to obtain email sent to US House staff.

          Nunes has a significantly higher level of exposure for a member of Congress due to his role on the HPSCI. His actions are going to be more likely to involve his handling of highly confidential material. If he has been pristine in his handling of this material while using US House resources, he will not leave a trail, but if he has not been careful — and the critical question is if the House leadership has the will to investigate — then he has a much greater exposure.

        • Peterr says:

          The big problem here, though, isn’t that they can’t get access to records of the Congress — it’s whether they can compel testimony from then-Executive branch employees.

          I’m sure the Democrats would love to talk with DOD officials — both career and political appointees — who were present during the back-and-forth about sending the National Guard in.

          I’m sure they’d love to talk with DOJ officials who were part of those same discussions, either at the DOJ, with colleagues at the Pentagon, or with WH staff.

          These and others like them will likely not testify absent a subpoena, and even then it may be a big battle to get it to happen. DOJ hands who remember the way the Iran-Contra prosecutions were torpedoed by overly-large grants of Congressional immunity will not want Congress to step on their current investigations and prosecutions.

        • Rugger9 says:

          Let’s remember that much of that reluctance was due to who ran DOJ at the time, and therefore being unwilling to enforce subpoenas. With Garland as AG, I suspect it may play out differently.

  3. klynn says:

    Interesting timeline considering the GOP floated Tucker as a potential 2024 Presidential candidate during that time frame. Maybe he passed “the Putin test” for future nomination? Tucker did not get around to announcing he would not run for POTUS until June 24, 2021. I wonder if 6/24 is the actual date he received the leaked information? Four days is about the time needed to scheme how to make himself look like a victim.

  4. dwfreeman says:

    If Tucker Carlson were seeking an interview with Vladimir Putin, why didn’t he just use the recent Biden summit with him or simply get his colleague, Chris Wallace to guide him through the process?

    After all, Wallace was the last American TV journalist before NBC News’ Keir Simmons highly publicized interview with the Russian president in June, preceding Biden’s Lake Geneva, Switzerland face time meeting with Putin. Wallace interviewed Putin for Fox in Helsinki in July 2018 prior to Trump’s infamous no note private session and joint press conference with the Kremlin leader.

    So, it took Carlson 30 months to establish a back channel with Russian operatives to set up a possible interview that movie maker Oliver Stone, whose films have skewered right wing motives and conspiracy, to land a four-part interview with Putin on Showtime. Of course, Putin just skates through these interviews with deflected questions and whataboutism answers. He has long since mastered the ability to navigate tough questions and propagandize the result for his own audience and purpose.

    One example of that, near the close of his interview with Wallace, Putin was asked why so many people who oppose him politically wind up dead or close to it. “Well, first of all, all of us have plenty of political rivals. I’m sure President Trump has plenty of political rivals,” he said, with Wallace retorting, “But they don’t end up dead.”

    Firing back, Putin noted American history, in making his point. “Haven’t presidents been killed in the United States? Have you forgotten about — well, has (President John F) Kennedy been killed in Russia or the United States? Or (Dr. Martin Luther) King? Well, and what happens to the clashes between police, and some — several ethnic groups? Well, that’s something that happens on the US soil. All of us have their own set of domestic problems.”

    Can’t help but think that Putin wasn’t projecting that last comment, not as a reminder of the past, but a reelection consideration going forward. In any case, Putin made his point.

    Carlson’s timeline of behind the scenes Kremlin influence peddling covers a lot of political ground, including the launch of the pandemic, and the first of two Trump impeachments, his failed reelection effort and big lie aftermath, insurrection coda. Yeah, and Carlson’s floated bid as a GOP great white hope for the WH in 2024. Maybe he could get House Republicans to investigate in the next session of Congress.

    • Njrun says:

      Right. If this were a legitimate interview request, why would it be set up through back channels and secret sources? And why would that be embarrassing, even if found out?

      There is a lot of message coordinating going on between the Trump faction (and possibly a long list of GOP operatives) and the Kremlin. That’s probably why this is so sensitive.

      Trump and the Kremlin have the same message day after day, RT is constantly airing Fox and GOP content. No way can this be a coincidence, there has to be regular coordination to stay on message and be in synch.

      Kushner wanted to set up a back channel in part for this purpose, maybe that got hard for him because he was in the White House and had more scrutiny, so it was outsourced to pissants and collaborators like Tucker. A theory.

  5. gmoke says:

    My theory is that Rupert Murdoch and Vladimir Putin have been partners for a very long time with a little Wendi Deng Murdoch adding some Chinese five flavor spice to the stew. Kleptocratic plutocrats stick together (when it serves them).

  6. Ladyfair says:

    Tucker claims it is the Biden Administration’s NSA that is ‘spying’ on him but if he was pursuing an interview for the last 30 months that takes him to the *rump Administration. What’s wrong with Tucker that he is still trying to secure an interview after 30 months?

    The fish stinks pretty bad.

    • Rayne says:

      And from the head down, too, since Carlson’s crap has either the implicit or tacit blessing of Lachlan and Rupert Murdoch.

  7. Ed G says:

    Not sure what’s worse…these idiots thinking they can’t be an intelligence asset for a foreign adversary without signing an official document or that they just don’t care.

    Maybe there’s just an addiction to being “in the thick of it” that they couldn’t maintain without Putin’s obvious assistance.

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