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Obama Worried Trump Would Warn the Russians about Their Compounds … Did They?

Halfway through this CBS story highlighting all the proof that shock, shock! there was spying going on in Russia’s two foreign service compounds shut down in December is this buried lede:

The Russians were given 24 hours to get out of the compound and 72 hours to leave the country. Current U.S. officials tell CBS News they vacated the compounds before the 24-hour deadline, striking some as odd and raising the question of whether the diplomats had been tipped off about their expulsion. [my emphasis]

But the possibility that someone had warned the Russians they needed to start destroying and transferring their spy toys is actually not new. Per this May AP story, it’s something the Obama team specifically worried about.

The distrust in the other camp was clear months earlier. In late December, as the White House prepared to levy sanctions and oust Russians living in the in the U.S. in retaliation for the hacks, Obama officials did not brief the Trump team on the decision until shortly before it was announced publicly. The timing was chosen in part because they feared the transition team might give Moscow lead time to clear information out of two compounds the U.S. was shuttering, one official said.

So … Obama officials worried Trump’s folks might warn Russia. And details about the evacuation suggest Russia may have had warning.

I wonder. Who might have wanted to warn the Russians that compounds used for sensitive spying and communications were about to be raided?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Lurking Jared

I’m still working my way through the Jim Comey testimony. But I’m frankly shocked by this detail: In Comey’s description of the February 14 Oval Office meeting — after which Trump addressed Comey privately about Mike Flynn’s recent firing — he includes this paragraph.

The President signaled the end of the briefing by thanking the group and
telling them all that he wanted to speak to me alone. I stayed in my chair. As the
participants started to leave the Oval Office, the Attorney General lingered by my
chair, but the President thanked him and said he wanted to speak only with me.
The last person to leave was Jared Kushner, who also stood by my chair and
exchanged pleasantries with me. The President then excused him, saying he
wanted to speak with me.

That is, right before Trump started buttering Comey up about the Mike Flynn investigation, both Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner lurked around. Notably, Comey describes Kushner “exchang[ing] pleasantries” with Comey, perhaps trying to butter him up.

I’ve written before about the Comey-Kushner connection. Apparently I wasn’t the only one to note how creepy Kushner is.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Two Data Points on Jared Kushner

I wanted to pull out two data points in this profile of Jared Kushner, completed in the wake of the WaPo story that Kushner attempted to set up a back channel with Russia.

First, as other stories have, this one blames Kushner for encouraging Trump to fire Jim Comey.

But in recent weeks, the Trump-Kushner relationship, the most stable partnership in an often unstable West Wing, is showing unmistakable signs of strain.

That relationship had already begun to fray a bit after Mr. Trump’s dismissal of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, which Mr. Kushner had strongly advocated, and because of his repeated attempts to oust Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, as well as the president’s overburdened communications team, especially Sean Spicer, the press secretary.

[snip]

Other times, he serves as a goad, as he did in urging Mr. Comey’s ouster and assuring Mr. Trump that it would be a political “win” that would neutralize protesting Democrats because they had called for Mr. Comey’s ouster over his handling of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, according to six West Wing aides.

I’ve pointed out before how the investigation into Mike Flynn might, with his cooperation, put Kushner at risk. But I’m interested in the new detail that Kushner assured his father that Democrats would love the firing of Comey because of Comey’s handling of the Hillary investigation.

I can see how a dummie might believe that. But I’m at least as interested in how pitching that theory for Comey’s firing implicated Rod Rosenstein, insofar as he wrote a letter providing the fig leaf Hillary-based justification for the firing, and thereby led to the naming of Robert Mueller. Rosenstein is still the Acting Attorney General for the Russia investigation now looking more closely at Kushner, and Kushner has effectively already compromised him.

Amid its larger narrative that Kushner and Trump actually haven’t been that close all that long, the NYT also reminds that Kushner got a lot of credit from his father-in-law for reviving the digital aspect of the campaign.

Mr. Kushner’s reported feeler to the Russians even as President Barack Obama remained in charge of American foreign policy was a trademark move by someone with a deep confidence in his abilities that critics say borders on conceit, people close to him said. And it echoes his history of sailing forth into unknown territory, including buying a newspaper at age 25 and developing a data-analytics program that he has said helped deliver the presidency to his father-in-law.

[snip]

Despite the perception that he is the one untouchable adviser in the president’s inner circle, Mr. Kushner was not especially close to his father-in-law before the 2016 campaign. The two bonded when Mr. Kushner helped to take over the campaign’s faltering digital operation and to sell a reluctant Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of Fox News’s parent company, on the viability of his father-in-law’s candidacy by showing him videos of Mr. Trump’s rally during a lunch at Fox headquarters in mid-2015.

There lots of reasons to look askance at Trump’s data program, even before you consider that it was so central in a year where Trump’s opponent got hacked. So I find it notable (which is where I’ll leave it, for now) that Kushner’s role in the digital side of the campaign was so central to his perceived closeness to Trump.

Ultimately, I keep noting that Kushner hasn’t really been part of the Trump family for that long — just eight years. While I certainly believe Trump looks on the father of his grandchildren as part of the family, I’m not sure how much real vetting they’ve done of him (and with this crowed, everyone is corrupt in any case).

It will be interesting to see, going forward, what bases for mutual loyalty — such as it exists between these two men — there are.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

What Would Jared Kushner’s Middle East Peace Look Like?

NYT has gotten a lot of heat for letting associates speaking for Jared Kushner who nevertheless refused to be IDed as such provide this explanation for why he asked Sergey Kislyak for a channel of communications that bypassed any US intelligence scrutiny.

Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, spoke in December with Russia’s ambassador to the United States about establishing a secret communications channel between the Trump transition team and Moscow to discuss strategy in Syria and other policy issues, according to three people with knowledge of the discussion.

I would defend NYT on two grounds. First, while I’m totally supportive of WaPo (and others) providing anonymity for their sources who are providing highly sensitive details about what went on, they, too, could provide a bit more detail so readers could understand the motives, not least by indicating whether these were Congressional (and therefore partisan) or intelligence sources.

But I also think it highly likely the relationship between the Syria claim and what is really going on is similar to the original NYT explanation of this meeting — that it served to “establish a line of communication” between the Trump Administration and Russia and what has now been disclosed as an effort to establish a line of communication that bypassed all IC scrutiny. That is, I suspect those who shared this excuse believe it and believe it is rational within a larger context, and I believe it describes part of what they know to be going on. (Don’t go nuts just yet — I’m not defending that belief.)

Before I explain what I mean, consider a few more data points.

First, in this appearance, Juliette Kayyem and Steven Hall distinguish what this appears to be — a channel that bypasses the IC — from one that uses a third country (the Pope, in Kayyem’s example of President Obama’s back channel to Cuba) to establish a dialogue with an estranged country, a traditional back channel.

But remember, this is not the only country Kushner was establishing weird communications with. The WaPo story on this reminds of Trump’s secrecy surrounding a meeting between the Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Kushner, Flynn, and Bannon.

Trump’s advisers were similarly secretive about meetings with leaders from the United Arab Emirates. The Obama White House only learned that the crown prince of Abu Dhabi was flying to New York in December to see Kushner, Flynn and Stephen K. Bannon, another top Trump adviser, because U.S. border agents in the UAE spotted the Emirate leader’s name on a flight manifest.

And WaPo ties that meeting to a meeting, brokered by UAE, between Erik Prince and a Putin confidante on January 11.

Now consider National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster’s take on all this. First, he’s not all that concerned that his boss’ son-in-law tried to set up a channel of communication using an adversary’s facilities. According to him, they do this all the time!

“We have back-channel communications with any number of individual (countries). So generally speaking, about back-channel communications, what that allows you to do is communicate in a discreet manner,” McMaster said.

“So it doesn’t pre-expose you to any sort of content or any kind of conversation or anything. So we’re not concerned about it.”

Actually, he does have a point there. There’s the Emirates meeting, but there’s also Mike Flynn’s discussions of kidnapping Fethullah Gulen at the behest of Recep Erdogan. You might even include Rudy Giuliani’s intervention in the Reza Zarrab case.

As if McMaster’s lackadaisical attitude about Kushner’s attempt to use Russia’s facilities isn’t weird enough, though, there’s something else. Even before he made this weird defense of Kushner’s back channels, McMaster was excluded from at least one meeting on Trump’s overseas trip: that between Trump and Bibi Netanyahu.

National security advisor H.R. McMaster was left out of a meeting between President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister BenjaminNetanyahu on Monday, a move that raised eyebrows among officials.

According to Kafe Knesset, Trump met with Netanyahu Monday evening, starting with a one-on-one meeting. The forum was soon expanded by several advisors on each side, including Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and Ambassador David Friedman on the U.S. side, according to Israeli officials.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was also later invited to the expanded meeting, per an official, but “McMaster sat outside the King David room during the course of the entire meeting.”

So perhaps we can add Israel to the list of countries that Kushner has been establishing back channel communications with.

For better or worse, a back channel with Israel by itself would never get you accused of treason in the US. But I do find it interesting given the underlying precedent to Devin Nunes’ complaints about “unmasking:” the earlier collection of conversations in which Bibi told Members of Congress what the Obama Administration’s plans were with respect to Iran. The conversations of Trump associates that Nunes was outraged were unmasked didn’t involve Russia, he said, but did they involve Israel? Or Turkey or the Emirates?

With all that in mind, consider what the purported Middle East peace that Kushner has reportedly been crafting would actually look like. It’d include unlimited support for Israeli occupation of Palestine. Bashar al-Assad would be ousted, but in a way that would permit Russia a strategic footprint, perhaps with sanction of its occupation of Crimea and Donetsk as well. It’d sanction the increasing authoritarianism in Turkey. It’s sanction Saudi Arabia’s ruthless starvation of Yemen. It’d fuck over the Kurds.

And it’d mean war with Iran.

Trump took steps towards doing most of those things on his trip, not least with his insane weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, itself premised on a formal detachment of weapons sales from any demands for respect for human rights. Of particular note, Trump claimed to be establishing a great peace initiative with Islamic countries, even when discussing meetings that treated Iran (and by association most Shia Muslims) as an enemy.

Several days ago in Saudi Arabia, I met with the leaders of the Muslim world and Arab nations from all across the region. It was an epic gathering. It was an historic event. Kind Salman of Saudi Arabia could not have been kinder, and I will tell you, he’s a very wise, wise man. I called on these leaders and asked them to join in a partnership to drive terrorism from their midst, once and for all. It was a deeply productive meeting. People have said there had really never been anything even close in history. I believe that. Being there and seeing who was there and hearing the spirit and a lot of love, there has never been anything like that in history. And it was an honor to be involved.

Kushner’s “peace plan” is not so much a plan for peace. It’s a plan for a complete remapping of the Middle East according to a vision the Israelis and Saudis have long been espousing (and note the multiple nods on Trump’s trip to the growing alliance between the two, including Trump’s flight directly from Riyadh to Tel Aviv and Bibi’s comment on “common dangers are turning former enemies into partners”). It’s a vision for still more oppression (a view that Trump supports globally, in any case).

Yes, it’d probably all be accomplished with corrupt self-enrichment on the part of all players.

And it’d likely be a complete clusterfuck.

Which is why you’d want to keep all of that — not just the conversations in which you persuade Russia to ditch Iran as an ally, but also the conversations where you reverse long-standing policy with Israel and America’s embrace of human rights — from the intelligence community.

Because the actual experts, the people who’ve long played a game with our frenemies Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey (and a battle with our adversaries like Russia), would explain all the problems with the plan.

I get why the focus on Russia is important, here.

But what if that focus is preventing us from seeing the vast forest of a horribly realigned American foreign policy for one Russian birch tree?

This post has been updated.

Update: A longtime (but anonymous) friend of the blog sent this humorous interpretation.

***************************<eyes only>****************************
To: DJT
Fr: JK
Dt: 5/28/17
Re: NWO
Sir,
This is to summarize the state of play in our negotiations for the NWO Project.
Everything’s a Go.
Oligarch        Turf                          Stipulations
Putin            Russia/Europe            No Muslims/No Refugees/Segregated Minorities
Trump          Americas/Britain        No Muslims/No Refugees/Segregated Minorities
Xi                 Asia/Pacific               No Muslims/No Refugees/Segregated Minorities
?                  Africa
Strongmen
Erdogan
Duterte
Un
Servicers
Israel           Global Finance
Saud            Middle East Portal/Muslim Vetting
Britain          Eurussian Portal
Japan           Pacific Portal
Prince           NWO Police
Winners                    and                    Losers
Authoritarians                                     Democracy
Exceptionalists                                    Rule of Law
Oligarchs                                            Everyone Else
Men                                                   Women
Caucasian/Han                                    All other Ethnicities
Sunni                                                 Shia
Jews                                                  Palestinians
Christians                                           Non-Christians
Russians                                             Europe, Ukraine, Crimea, Al Assad
China                                                 Taiwan, Hawaii (u gave them?)
Israel                                                 Iran, Palestinians
Saud                                                  All of the Middle East ex. Israel
Gen. Bannon says the next step in the plan is Operation Revenge479…
Doing my best to put you in good positions.
Love you, Pop!
J
**********crypto room fsb dc emb uid: skislyak //sci.nwo.kompromat***********
Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Anonymous Letter to WaPo

Just when I thought we’d have a long weekend without a big news dump, the WaPo published its story revealing Jared Kushner asked Sergey Kislyak to set up a channel of communication with Russia at Russian facilities at a meeting in early December.

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergei Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, then President-elect Trump’s son-in-law and confidant, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

That story — and additional details on Kushner’s discussions with UAE — is the big headliner.

But the fascinating detail is that WaPo received an anonymous letter with details of this meeting — and other things that the WaPo suggests it may not yet have confirmed — in mid-December.

The Post was first alerted in mid-December to the meeting by an anonymous letter, which said, among other things, that Kushner had talked to Kislyak about setting up the communications channel. This week, officials, who reviewed the letter and spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence, said the portion about the secret channel was consistent with their understanding of events.

For instance, according to those officials and the letter, Kushner conveyed to the Russians that he was aware it would be politically sensitive to meet publicly, but it was necessary for the Trump team to be able to continue their communication with Russian government officials.

In addition to their discussion about setting up the communications channel, Kushner, Flynn and Kislyak also talked about arranging a meeting between a representative of Trump and a “Russian contact” in a third country whose name was not identified, according to the anonymous letter.

So who could have sent the letter?

First, consider the timing. The letter was sent within a few weeks of the meeting itself. In between the meeting and sending of the letter, these very same reporters got the scoop that the CIA believed Russia affirmatively wanted Trump elected, a scoop that pre-empted the President’s call for a report on Russian tampering in the election. A week later, two of these reporters got another confirmation that John Brennan said the other agencies agreed with him on the view that Putin wanted Trump elected.

The letter also got received a few days after John McCain got a copy of Christopher Steele’s dossier (reportedly on December 9), followed just four days later by the last known and by far most incendiary installment of the dossier, which for the first time accused Trump’s campaign of paying the DNC hackers.

In other words, WaPo received the letter at a time when the IC was dumping a ton of information implicating Trump. So perhaps it was a spook who heard Kislyak’s description of the meeting on an intercept.

The dominant narrative on those intercepts, however, has said that the IC wasn’t listening closely to Kislyak intercepts until after Russia did not retaliate in response to the hacking sanctions imposed on December 28, and didn’t find the incriminating Mike Flynn conversations until around January 3. If that’s right, then the IC wouldn’t have heard about this meeting until weeks after the letter was sent. [Update: the NYT version of this–which appears to be damage control from the White House–cites a senior American official stating that they learned about this conversation “several months ago,” which would put it after the letter was sent.]

Of course, with the FBI and CIA getting their own raw feeds of data, it’s possible one agency listened to the intercepts (and had the language skills to understand them) before another did. It’s possible, for example, CIA learned about the meeting before FBI did so in the aftermath of the sanctions concerns.

It’s also possible that the Russians sent the letter — or even that Kislyak made up the Kushner claim as disinformation (remember, by this point there were leaks about FISA orders, with reports that Russian interlocutors were changing their communication habits). But it’s unclear what Russia would have to gain by sending a letter in December, rather than waiting until Kushner had compromised himself. Doing so would eliminate all the control they had gained with the information.

Which (barring a spook sending the letter) would seem to leave a Trump associate. Reportedly, WaPo’s Miller said that the letter appears to come from someone inside the Trump transition. Anyone else at the meeting would seem to be an immediate target for Trump retaliation. Though it is possible that Mike Flynn sent the letter, realizing he was getting set up by Trump, which would make the delay in reporting this detail rather interesting. That said, he would have little reason to do so in December, as opposed to now, given that he faces criminal investigation.

Outside of Flynn, though, it’s not clear many people knew this meeting ever happened, much less what happened in it. The meeting was first disclosed by the New Yorker, following which the White House quickly added (in a story to the NYT) Flynn to the story — suggesting he, and not the President’s son-in-law suggested the communication channel.

Michael T. Flynn, then Donald J. Trump’s incoming national security adviser, had a previously undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador in December to “establish a line of communication” between the new administration and the Russian government, the White House said on Thursday.

Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and now a senior adviser, also participated in the meeting at Trump Tower with Mr. Flynn and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador. But among Mr. Trump’s inner circle, it is Mr. Flynn who appears to have been the main interlocutor with the Russian envoy — the two were in contact during the campaign and the transition, Mr. Kislyak and current and former American officials have said.

[snip]

“They generally discussed the relationship and it made sense to establish a line of communication,” Ms. Hicks said. “Jared has had meetings with many other foreign countries and representatives — as many as two dozen other foreign countries’ leaders and representatives.”

The Trump Tower meeting lasted 20 minutes, and Mr. Kushner has not met since with Mr. Kislyak, Ms. Hicks said.

It later became clear that Kushner hadn’t even shared that meeting with White House staffers (presumably including Don McGahn) when responding the Mike Flynn firing, much less included them on his security clearance form.

The extent of Mr. Kushner’s interactions with Mr. Kislyak caught some senior members of Mr. Trump’s White House team off guard, in part because he did not mention them last month during a debate then consuming the White House: how to handle the disclosures about Mr. Flynn’s interactions with the Russian ambassador.

Ms. Hicks said that Mr. Trump had authorized Mr. Kushner to have meetings with foreign officials that he felt made sense, and to report back to him if those meetings produced anything of note. She said that because in Mr. Kushner’s view the meetings were inconsequential, it did not occur to him to mention them to senior staff members earlier.

“There was nothing to get out in front of on this,” she said.

So there wouldn’t be that many transition staffers who would know of the meeting by mid-December.

That said, one person who knew about the meeting ahead of time was Marshall Billingslea, who tried to warn Flynn about Kislyak. And his request for the Kislyak profile would have alerted the CIA to his concerns about the meeting.

In any case, there are now reports of still more Kushner communications with Kislyak coming out, going back to April 2016. So the FBI sure has a lot to review.

Update: As others have pointed out, at 8:30 there’s a more detailed description of the typed letter, received December 12.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

From Long Island and Maryland with Love

Yet another Trump-Russia-related story dropped after regular business hours, this time in a holiday news dump zone. But after weeks of big stories dropping later in the day, we’re all conditioned to hold off our cocktails.

The Washington Post article had two tidbits I found interesting (Marcy tackles the anonymous letter at the root of the story). First, Russian Ambassador Kislyak’s reaction to Trump son-in-law and transition team member Jared Kushner’s proposal to establish a backchannel between Trump’s team and Russia.

Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team.

Yeah. Not the first time Russia agents found American behavior sketchy. Recall the 2015 arrest of three Russian spies in New York? Evgeny Buryakov was really skeptical about his American contact’s insistence on casino business, and with good reason. Kislyak sounds just as skeptical about Kushner’s request in today’s WaPo piece.

And then this bit:

Russia would also have had reasons of its own to reject such an overture from Kushner. Doing so would require Moscow to expose its most sophisticated communications capabilities — which are likely housed in highly secure locations at diplomatic compounds — to an American.

Remember Obama’s last sanctions on Russia, ordered December 29? They included evicting two diplomatic compounds — one in Long Island, another in Maryland (back to this Maryland compound in a moment). What’s the chances these evictions were not only punitive but as a deterrent to their use for backchannel communications?

I’ve wondered for a while now about the communications methods Russian spies have used in the U.S., pondering about them in my post about 2015’s three-man spy ring. What might have been left behind after the last Obama administration sanctions?

Now back to Maryland and that storied Pioneer Point estate on the water, used by putative Russian diplomats as their dacha away from the hubbub of Washington D.C. It’s a lovely place, conveniently located near Annapolis, not an overly long drive from D.C., delightful waterfront for boating.

And only a hop-skip-jump across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge or a boat ride over the bay from Strategic Campaign Group (SCG) at 191 Main St #310, Annapolis — an address about a block from docks and waterfront restaurants. You may recall SCG was raided earlier this month in relation to reported conservative fundraising scams. Just so happens SCG has ties to Paul Manafort and to the Trump organization by former employee James Perry. At the time of the raid, the FBI said SCG was under investigation for fundraising related to a 2013 race.

I’m sure the proximity of SCG to the Russian’s Pioneer Point dacha is just a coincidence. But squirrel away the location for future reference.

Off to have the first holiday weekend cocktail — and no, it’s not a White Russian or a Moscow Mule. Have a good one!

UPDATE — 9:50 p.m. EDT —
Reuters dropped another one about a half-hour ago. Really, Jared? You can’t recall three additional contacts with Russian ambassador Kislyak? You’re really going to make Jamie Gorelick torch her reputation with this “dog ate my homework” prevarication? Are you really so clueless about communications collection? Because if you are, that’s as big a reason for your security clearance to be yanked as your lying has been. Somebody terminate his clearance immediately, please, whether he’s a target of the investigation or not.

I need another cocktail. Race you to the bar. If only we could make Jared buy us all a round.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

The Kushner-Comey Connection

The WaPo is reporting that the FBI probe into ties between Russia and Trump’s campaign is looking at a person still in the White House, in addition to Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort.

The law enforcement investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign has identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest, showing that the probe is reaching into the highest levels of government, according to people familiar with the matter.

Further down in the article, WaPo names some people that might be this other person of interest — but just one of them is actually in the White House.

Current administration officials who have acknowledged contacts with Russian officials include President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as well as Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Still further down, the WaPo covers what first got me believing Jared Kushner is the ultimate target of this probe: his meeting with Sergey Gorkov, the FSB-trained head of the sanctioned Russian bank, Vnesheconombank.

The White House also has acknowledged that Kushner met with Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, in late November. Kushner also has acknowledged that he met with the head of a Russian development bank, Vnesheconombank, which has been under U.S. sanctions since July 2014. The president’s son-in-law initially omitted contacts with foreign leaders from a national security questionnaire, though his lawyer has said publicly he submitted the form prematurely and informed the FBI soon after that he would provide an update.

Vnesheconombank handles development for the state, and in early 2015, a man purporting to be one of its New York-based employees was arrested and accused of being an unregistered spy.

That man — Evgeny Buryakov — ultimately pleaded guilty and was eventually deported. He had been in contact with former Trump adviser Carter Page, though Page has said he shared only “basic immaterial information and publicly available research documents” with the Russian. Page was the subject of a secret warrant last year issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, based on suspicions he might have been acting as an agent of the Russian government, according to people familiar with the matter. Page has denied any wrongdoing, and accused the government of violating his civil rights.

As I’ve noted since, there was a lot of smoke coming from Kushner’s direction: first, SSCI’s explicit interest in interviewing Kusher and then two competing stories about a Trump request for CIA’s Sergey Kislyak dossier that only makes sense if the audience were Kushner, not Flynn.

But there are a few more dots (in addition to people claiming to have confirmed this point) that support the idea that Kushner is the ultimate target here, and that Trump, in his clumsy attempts to protect Mike Flynn by firing Jim Comey, is actually attempt to protect the father of his grandchildren.

Back on March 2, Jim Comey’s then still secret Twitter account favorited this NYT article disclosing that Mike Flynn had a previously undisclosed face-to-face meeting with Sergey Kislyak at Trump Tower. (h/t TC)

Michael T. Flynn, then Donald J. Trump’s incoming national security adviser, had a previously undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador in December to “establish a line of communication” between the new administration and the Russian government, the White House said on Thursday.

Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and now a senior adviser, also participated in the meeting at Trump Tower with Mr. Flynn and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador. But among Mr. Trump’s inner circle, it is Mr. Flynn who appears to have been the main interlocutor with the Russian envoy — the two were in contact during the campaign and the transition, Mr. Kislyak and current and former American officials have said.

[snip]

They generally discussed the relationship and it made sense to establish a line of communication,” Ms. Hicks said. “Jared has had meetings with many other foreign countries and representatives — as many as two dozen other foreign countries’ leaders and representatives.”

The story was presented as White House confirmation of earlier New Yorker reporting that Kushner had the meeting, with the White House newly disclosing Flynn’s presence at it. But we now know that the representation that Kushner’s meeting with Kislyak was just one of a slew of meetings with foreign leaders wasn’t quite right. He had sent an aide to a subsequent meeting, and coming out of that meeting, he met with Gorkov, basically meeting with someone personally lobbying to get rid of Ukraine-related sanctions.

Later that month, though, Mr. Kislyak requested a second meeting, which Mr. Kushner asked a deputy to attend in his stead, officials said. At Mr. Kislyak’s request, Mr. Kushner later met with Sergey N. Gorkov, the chief of Vnesheconombank, which the United States placed on its sanctions list after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia annexed Crimea and began meddling in Ukraine.

Of course, while we only learned that fact later, when Comey favorited that story on March 2, he would have known the full details of the follow-up communications. In other words, he would recognize that story as yet another case of the White House hiding Russian communications. He would also likely already know that Kushner had not included that meeting on his security clearance form.

We only learned that story on March 27, when the NYT revealed the Senate Intelligence Committee wanted to interview Kushner about the meeting. As I noted at the time, the discussion between Gorkov and Kushner, coming before Flynn’s December 29 discussions with Kislyak, would dramatically change the connotation of Flynn’s discussions of sanctions. Because, while the immediate context of the December 29 discussions would have been the new hacking related sanctions imposed on December 28, with the prior meeting with Gorkov, they would likely also include the Ukrainian ones. That was the payoff discussed in any quid pro quo related to the election: Putin would help elect Trump, and in exchange Trump would end economic sanctions.

Of course, to make the argument that Flynn was offering to give Russia the payoff for the election-related help, you’d have to get Flynn to cooperate. If you got Flynn to cooperate, he’d be able to tell the FBI whether or not those December 29 conversations pertained just to the hacking sanctions or also to the Ukrainian ones.

The FBI has a great many things they can and will use to get Flynn to cooperate, including his undisclosed foreign payments and his lies to the FBI in his January 24 interview.

[Large section based off erroneous reading of Wittes’ post removed.]

When Trump fired Comey, he claimed that Comey had thrice told him “he” wasn’t under investigation. Even assuming Comey did, consider how Trump would understand that and how normal people would. To us, “he” would include just Trump. But to someone like Trump whose only real loyalty is to family, “he” would include his family. Including Kushner.

Trump may well think Flynn is a nice man that deserves his loyalty. More likely, though, Trump knows that Flynn could sink his son-in-law. I believe that’s why Trump had to fire Comey in an effort to undercut the Flynn investigation.

And Rod Rosenstein, the survivor, just picked a partner from the firm of Kushner and Ivanka’s lawyer Jamie Gorelick, Robert Mueller, to take over the investigation into Flynn.

Update: Sure enough, Reuters is reporting that Mueller, by design, may not be able to investigate Kushner or Paul Manafort.

Within hours of Mueller’s appointment on Wednesday, the White House began reviewing the Code of Federal Regulations, which restricts newly hired government lawyers from investigating their prior law firm’s clients for one year after their hiring, the sources said.

An executive order signed by Trump in January extended that period to two years.

Mueller’s former law firm, WilmerHale, represents Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who met with a Russian bank executive in December, and the president’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who is a subject of a federal investigation.

Legal experts said the ethics rule can be waived by the Justice Department, which appointed Mueller. He did not represent Kushner or Manafort directly at his former law firm.

If the department did not grant a waiver, Mueller would be barred from investigating Kushner or Manafort, and this could greatly diminish the scope of the probe, experts said.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Scope of the Special Counsel Appointment Is Totally Inadequate

Rod Rosenstein just appointed former FBI Director (and, before that, US Attorney) Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to take over the investigation into Trump and his associates.

I’m agnostic about the selection of Mueller. He has the benefit of credibility among FBI Agents, so will be able to make up for some of what was lost with Jim Comey’s firing. He will be regarded by those who care about such things as non-partisan. With Jim Comey, Mueller stood up to Dick Cheney on Stellar Wind in 2004 (though I think in reality his willingness to withstand Cheney’s demands has been overstated).

But Mueller has helped cover up certain things in the past, most notably with the Amerithrax investigation.

My bigger concern is with the scope, which I believe to be totally inadequate.

Here’s how the order describes the scope:

(b) The Special Counsel is authorized to conduct the investigation confirmed by then-FBI Director James 8. Comey in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on March 20, 2017, including:

(i) any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and

(ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and

(iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).

As I read this, it covers just the investigation into ties between the Russian government and people associated with Trump’s campaign. Presumably, that includes Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Carter Page, among others.

But there are other aspects of the great swamp that is the Trump and Russia orbit that might not be included here. For example, would Manafort’s corrupt deals with Ukrainian oligarchs be included? Would Flynn’s discussions with Turkish officials, or Rudy Giuliani’s attempt to excuse Turkey’s violation of Iran sanctions? Would the garden variety money laundering on behalf of non-governmental Russian mobbed up businessmen be included, something that might affect Manafort, Jared Kushner, or Trump himself?

And remember there are at least two other aspects of the Russian hacking investigation. Back in February, Reuters reported that San Francisco’s office was investigating Guccifer 2.0 and Pittsburgh was investigating the actual hackers.  Somewhere (San Francisco would be the most logical spot), they’re presumably investigating whoever it is that has been dumping NSA’s hacking tools everywhere. I’ve learned that that geography has either changed, or there are other aspects tied to those issues in other corners of the country.

Plus, there’s the Wikileaks investigation in EDVA, the same district where the Mueller-led investigation might reside, but a distinct investigation.

Any one of those investigations might present strings that can be pulled, any one of which might lead to the unraveling of the central question: did Trump’s associates coordinate with the Russian government to become President. Unless Mueller can serve to protect those other corners of the investigation from Trump’s tampering, it would be easy to shut down any of them as they become productive.

Yet, as far as I understand the scope of this, Mueller will only oversee the central question, leaving those disparate ends susceptible to Trump’s tampering.

Update: In its statement on the appointment, ACLU raises concerns about whether this would include the investigation into Trump’s attempt to obstruct this investigation.

Update: WaPo’s Philip Rucker reminds that Mueller is law firm partners with Jamie Gorelick, who has been representing both Ivanka and Kushner in this issue.

Update: Mueller is quitting WilmberHale to take this gig. He’s also taking two WilmerHale former FBI people with him. Still, that’s a close tie to the lawyer of someone representing key subjects of this investigation.

Update: One addition to the ACLU concern about investigating the Comey firing. In the most directly relevant precedent, the Plame investigation, when Pat Fitzgerald expanded his investigation from the leak of Plame’s identity to the obstruction of the investigation, he asked for approval to do so from the Acting Attorney General overseeing the investigation — in that case, Jim Comey.

The Acting Attorney General in this case is Rod Rosenstein. So if Mueller were as diligent as Fitzgerald was, he would have to ask the guy who provided the fig leaf for Comey’s firing to approve the expansion of the investigation to cover his own fig leaf.

Update: Petey noted to me that Jeff Sessions’ narrow recusal may limit how broadly Rosenstein’s order may be drawn. It’s a really interesting observation. Here’s what I said about Sessions’ recusal (which is very similar to what I tried to address in this post).

There are two areas of concern regarding Trump’s ties that would not definitively be included in this recusal: Trump’s long-term ties to mobbed up businessmen with ties to Russia (a matter not known to be under investigation but which could raise concerns about compromise of Trump going forward), and discussions about policy that may involve quid pro quos (such as the unproven allegation, made in the Trump dossier, that Carter Page might take 19% in Rosneft in exchange for ending sanctions against Russia), that didn’t involve a pay-off in terms of the hacking. There are further allegations of Trump involvement in the hacking (a weak one against Paul Manafort and a much stronger one against Michael Cohen, both in the dossier), but that’s in no way the only concern raised about Trump’s ties with Russians.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Implications of the Competing Flynn-Billingslea Stories

In advance of Sally Yates’ testimony Monday, the WaPo and AP have released stories on concerns about Mike Flynn’s ties with Russia during the transition period.

The stories themselves are interesting enough. But that and how they differ make them all the more interesting.

The WaPo story makes the Trump White House — and very specifically Marshall Billingslea, whom Trump recently nominated to be Treasury’s terrorist finance Assistant Secretary — look the hero of a story about warnings Trump’s people gave Mike Flynn about Russia. In this version, after growing concerned that Flynn had showed more interest in meeting Sergey Kislyak than any of the other ambassadors who were pestering him for meetings, Billingslea intervened to obtain CIA’s profile of Kislyak in time for a November 28 meeting Flynn and (though this receives far less emphasis) Jared Kushner attended.

Billingslea warned Flynn that Kislyak was likely a target of U.S. surveillance and that his communications — whether with U.S. persons or superiors in Moscow — were undoubtedly being monitored by the FBI and National Security Agency, according to officials familiar with the exchange. Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general who led the Defense Intelligence Agency, would presumably have been aware of such surveillance.

Billingslea then said that he would obtain a copy of the profile of Kislyak, officials said, a document that Billingslea urged Flynn to read if he were going to communicate with the Russian envoy. Flynn’s reaction was noncommittal, officials said, neither objecting to the feedback nor signaling agreement.

Shortly thereafter, during the week of Nov. 28, Billingslea and other transition officials met with lower-level Obama administration officials in the Situation Room at the White House.

At the end of the meeting, which covered a range of subjects, Billingslea asked for the CIA profile. “Can we get material on Kislyak?” one recalled Billingslea asking.

Days later, Flynn took part in a meeting with Kislyak at Trump Tower. White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks has confirmed that both Flynn and Jared Kushner, Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, took part in that session, which was not publicly disclosed at the time.

In that story of the Trump Administration’s effort to warn off someone who (unlike the barely mentioned Kushner) had spent a lifetime working with spies of spying, the CIA dossier, which reportedly doesn’t say Kislyak is a spy (though other outlets have claimed he is this year) gets placed in the transition SCIF.

The CIA bio on Kislyak was placed in a room in the Trump transition offices set up to handle classified material. Officials familiar with the document said that even if Flynn had read it, there was little in it that would have triggered alarms.

The file spanned three or four pages, describing Kislyak’s diplomatic career, extensive involvement in arms negotiations, and reputation as a determined proponent of Russian interests. It noted that he routinely reported information back to Moscow and that any information he gathered would be shared with Russia’s intelligence services. But the file did not say Kislyak was a spy.

Compare that key detail to something that appears in the AP version, which is told from the perspective of Obama officials. That story reveals that documents (they’re not described as the CIA dossier) were copied and removed from the SCIF.

After learning that highly sensitive documents from a secure room at the transition’s Washington headquarters were being copied and removed from the facility, Obama’s national security team decided to only allow the transition officials to view some information at the White House, including documents on the government’s contingency plans for crises.

In the AP story, Billingslea’s request was seen as a warning sign about Flynn’s preparation (who, again, had a lifetime of working with spies) to deal with America’s adversarial relationship with Russia.

In late November, a member of Donald Trump’s transition team approached national security officials in the Obama White House with a curious request: Could the incoming team get a copy of the classified CIA profile on Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States?

Marshall Billingslea, a former Pentagon and NATO official, wanted the information for his boss, Michael Flynn, who had been tapped by Trump to serve as White House national security adviser. Billingslea knew Flynn would be speaking to Kislyak, according to two former Obama administration officials, and seemed concerned Flynn did not fully understand he was dealing with a man rumored to have ties to Russian intelligence agencies.

To the Obama White House, Billingslea’s concerns were startling: a member of Trump’s own team suggesting the incoming Trump administration might be in over its head in dealing with an adversary.

But later in the AP story, it describes the Obama’s team’s concern that the Kislyak dossier was the only one requested.

Leading up to the revelation that Trump officials copied classified documents from the SCIF (which is how it ends), the AP first warns that some of this story will come out in Sally Yates’ testimony next Monday. It also reveals that the Obama Administration withheld information from Trump’s team, worried they’d share it with Russia.

In late December, as the White House prepared to levy sanctions and oust Russians living in the in the U.S. in retaliation for the hacks, Obama officials did not brief the Trump team on the decision until shortly before it was announced publicly. The timing was chosen in part because they feared the transition team might give Moscow lead time to clear information out of two compounds the U.S. was shuttering, one official said.

While it’s not inappropriate for someone in Flynn’s position to have contact with a diplomat, Obama officials said the frequency of his discussions raised enough red flags that aides discussed the possibility Trump was trying to establish a one-to-one line of communication — a so-called back channel — with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Obama aides say they never determined why Flynn was in close contact with the ambassador.

Viewed in comparison, the stories seem like competing efforts to get ahead of what both sides know will come out on Monday. The Trump team, knowing some of what Yates will say (in testimony they tried to prevent), is now making the remaining White House officials look good, and providing a somewhat plausible explanation for obtaining just the Kislyak dossier. But AP’s revelation that Trump’s people were copying documents from the SCIF that held the dossier raise questions about whether the reason it was obtained was to share the dossier. Neither story mentions what Adam Schiff has, which is that one really interesting detail will be the delay in ousting Flynn after Yates first told the White House of her concerns.

Both the stories leave out a detail the NYT previously reported that seems important, however: that Kislyak meeting, which the spook-savvy Flynn and the young Kushner attended, led to a second and a third, ultimately leading Kushner to meet the FSB-trained head of a sanctioned bank.

Until now, the White House had acknowledged only an early December meeting between Mr. Kislyak and Mr. Kushner, which occurred at Trump Tower and was also attended by Michael T. Flynn, who would briefly serve as the national security adviser.

Later that month, though, Mr. Kislyak requested a second meeting, which Mr. Kushner asked a deputy to attend in his stead, officials said. At Mr. Kislyak’s request, Mr. Kushner later met with Sergey N. Gorkov, the chief of Vnesheconombank, which drew sanctions from the Obama administration after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia annexed Crimea and began meddling in Ukraine.

The subtext of taking the two Billingslea stories and the Sergey Gorkov one together is that Flynn — or even the President’s son-in-law — may have provided intelligence to the Russians, in events that led up to the closest thing we’ve seen to a possible quid pro quo.

In any case, the dossier seems either better suited to warning Kushner, not Flynn, of the dangers he was navigating, or a document that, if copied and handed to its subject, would be interesting though not devastating intelligence to share.

One final point: this story helps to explain why both the December 28 sanctions and the early January hack report were so awful; remember, too, when first announced, the press had the wrong location of the Long Island compound in question. At the time, I thought both were designed to be a document, any document, ones that didn’t reveal what the intelligence community actually knew (aside from the identities of the 35 expelled diplomats), particularly regarding who actually conducted the DNC hack. The AP story reveals Obama’s team was particularly worried Trump’s team would warn the Russians in time to dismantle some of the communications equipment at the two compounds. The crummy documents, plus the delay in informing Congress of the scope of the investigation until Flynn had been ousted, are both best explained by a concern that the National Security Advisor would share the information directly with Russia.

So will we learn that Flynn — or Kushner — did share such information?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Why Susan Rice May Be a Shiny Object

A bunch of Republican propagandists are outraged that the press isn’t showing more interest in PizzaGate Mike Cernovich’s “scoop” that the woman in charge of ensuring our national security under President Obama, then National Security Advisor Susan Rice, sought to fully understand the national security intercepts she was being shown.

There are two bases for their poutrage, which might have merit — but coming from such hacks, may not.

The first is the suggestion, based off Devin Nunes’ claim (and refuted by Adam Schiff) that Rice unmasked things she shouldn’t have. Thus far, the (probably illegally) leaked details — such as that family members, perhaps like Jared Kushner (who met with an FSB officer turned head of a sanctioned Russian bank used as cover for other spying operations), Sean Hannity (who met with an already-targeted Julian Assange at a time he was suspected of coordinating with Russians), and Erik Prince (who has literally built armies for foreign powers) got spied on — do nothing but undermine Nunes’ claims. All the claimed outrageous unmaskings actually seem quite justifiable, given the accepted purpose for FISA intercepts.

The other suggestion — and thus far, it is a suggestion, probably because (as I’ll show) it’s thus far logically devoid of evidence — is that because Rice asked to have the names of people unmasked, she must be the person who leaked the contents of the intercepts of Sergey Kislyak discussing sanctions with Mike Flynn. (Somehow, the propagandists always throw Ben Rhodes’ name in, though it’s not clear on what basis.)

Let me start by saying this. Let’s assume those intercepts remained classified when they were leaked. That’s almost certain, but Obama certainly did have the authority to declassify them, just as either George Bush or Dick Cheney allegedly used that authority to declassify Valerie Plame’s ID (as some of these same propagandists applauded back in the day). But assuming the intercepts did remain classified, I agree that it is a problem that they were leaked by nine different sources to the WaPo.

But just because Rice asked to unmask the identities of various Trump (and right wing media) figures doesn’t mean she and Ben Rhodes are the nine sources for the WaPo.

That’s because the information on Flynn may have existed in a number of other places.

Obviously, Rice could not have been the first person to read the Flynn-Kislyak intercepts. That’s because some analyst(s) would have had to read them and put them into a finished report (most, but not all, of Nunes’ blathering comments about these reports suggest they were finished intelligence). Assuming those analysts were at NSA (which is not at all certain) someone would have had to have approved the unmasking of Flynn’s name before Rice saw it.

In addition, it is possible — likely even, at least by January 2017, when we know people were asking why Russia didn’t respond more strongly to Obama’s hacking sanctions — that there were two other sets of people who had access to the raw intelligence on Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak: the CIA and, especially, the FBI, which would have been involved in any FISA-related collection. Both CIA and FBI can get raw data on topics they’re working on. Likely, in this case, the multi-agency task force was getting raw collection related to their Russian investigation.

And as I’ve explained, as soon as FBI developed a suspicion that either Kislyak was at the center of discussions on sanctions or that Flynn was an unregistered agent of multiple foreign powers, the Special Agents doing that investigation would routinely pull up everything in their databases on those people by name, which would result in raw Title I and 702 FISA collection (post January 3, it probably began to include raw EO 12333 data as well).

So already you’re up to about 15 to 20 people who would have access to the raw intercepts, and that’s before they brief their bosses, Congress (though the Devin Nunes and Adam Schiff briefing, at least, was delayed a bit), and DOJ, all the way up to Sally Yates, who wanted to warn the White House. Jim Comey has suggested it is likely that the nine sources behind the WaPo story were among these people briefed secondarily on the intercepts. And it’s worth noting that David Ignatius, who first broke the story of Flynn’s chats with Kislyak but was not credited on the nine source story, has known source relationships in other parts of the government than the National Security Advisor, though he also has ties to Rice.

All of which is to say that the question of who leaked the contents of Mike Flynn’s conversations with Sergey Kislyak is a very different question from whether Susan Rice’s requests to unmask Trump associates’ names were proper or not. It is possible that Rice leaked the intercepts without declassifying them first. But it’s also possible that any of tens of other people did, most of whom would have a completely independent channel for that information.

And the big vulnerability is not — no matter what Eli Lake wants to pretend — the unmasking of individual names by the National Security Advisor. Rather, it’s that groups of investigators can access the same intelligence in raw form without a warrant tied to the American person in question.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.