Four Details about Surveillance and the Flynn Ouster

It turns out Trump is on pace to fire a person every week, just like in his reality show. As you surely know, Mike Flynn has been ousted as National Security Advisor, along with his Deputy, KT McFarland.

There has been some confusion about what intelligence the spooks who just caused Flynn to be fired relied on. So let’s start with this detail from last night’s WaPo story:

After the sanctions were rolled out, the Obama administration braced itself for the Russian retaliation. To the surprise of many U.S. officials, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Dec. 30 that there would be no response. Trump praised the decision on Twitter.

Intelligence analysts began to search for clues that could help explain Putin’s move. The search turned up Kislyak’s communications, which the FBI routinely monitors, and the phone call in question with Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general with years of intelligence experience.

From that call and subsequent intercepts, FBI agents wrote a secret report summarizing ­Flynn’s discussions with Kislyak.

That is, in response to questions elicited by Putin’s response, analysts actually read the intercepts of the Flynn-Kislyak call, which led to further monitoring of the conversations. And contrary to what HPSCI Chair Devin Nunes is whining, FBI would have access to Flynn’s side of the call right away, because they would own the tap (and in any case, they’d get unminimized copies of anything from NSA).

Some have pointed to this passage to suggest that the FBI was always listening in.

U.S. intelligence reports during the 2016 presidential campaign showed that Kislyak was in touch with Flynn, officials said. Communications between the two continued after Trump’s victory on Nov. 8, according to officials with access to intelligence reports on the matter.

It’s quite likely that’s not the case. After all, even Michael McFaul (who served as Ambassador to Russia at the beginning of the Obama Administration) said it was normal to have such calls before inauguration. Moreover, the FBI wouldn’t need to access the content of communications to learn that they were taking place. The metadata would be enough. And the actual content of the contacts would remain in some server in Utah.

Also, some have suggested that Flynn must be the Trump associate against whom a single FISA order was obtained in October. That’s unlikely, first of all, because if there were a FISA order on Flynn, then the FBI wouldn’t have needed the weird Putin response to lead them to read the actual content of calls (not to mention, the WaPo is clear that the contacts were collected as a result of normal monitoring of a foreign diplomat). Furthermore, most reports of that FISA order suggest the FBI first asked for four orders (in June and July) but only got one, in October. So it’s likely that FISA order covers another of Trump’s Russian buddies.

Finally, remember that for a great deal of SIGINT, FBI wouldn’t need a warrant. That’s because Obama changed the EO 12333 sharing rules just 4 days after the IC started getting really suspicious about Flynn’s contacts with Russia. That would make five years of intercepts available to FBI without a warrant in any counterintelligence cases, as this one is.

Update: Corrected KT McFarland instead of KC. Also, I’ve been informed she’ll stick around until Trump names a new NSA.

WaPo Cleans Up a False Michael McFaul Allegation about RT

As I noted in my last post, I’m going to do some posts on the whackjob article WaPo published over the weekend, magnifying the assertions of some researchers (one group of which remain anonymous) alleging that outlets like Naked Capitalism are really Russian propaganda outlets.

In this post, I want to look at a correction the WaPo made after it was posted for a day. The original story featured this claim from former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.

A former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael A. McFaul, said he was struck by the overt support that RT and Sputnik expressed for Trump during the campaign, even using the #CrookedHillary hashtag pushed by the candidate.

In the interim, RT appears to have contacted WaPo,refuting the claims in the article (many of the other outlets claimed to be Russian propaganda outlets have yet to be contacted by the WaPo). A paragraph has been added, incorporating a statement from RT’s head of communications.

Now the McFaul claim looks like this:

A former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael A. McFaul, said he was struck by the overt support that Sputnik expressed for Trump during the campaign, even using the #CrookedHillary hashtag pushed by the candidate.

And the article includes this correction:

Correction: A previously published version of this story incorrectly stated that Russian information service RT had used the “#CrookedHillary” hastag [sic] pushed by then-Republican candidate Donald Trump. In fact, while another Russian information service Sputnik did use this hashtag, RT did not.

The article itself didn’t state that. McFaul did. The article simply paraphrased his claim.

Note, it appears people responding to RT have used the hashtag, which might be easy to confuse if you didn’t look too closely. But then, so do people responding to WaPo tweets.

A proper correction would instead say something like this:

A leading expert on Russia, former Ambassador to Russia and current Stanford University Political Science professor Michael McFaul, claimed that both RT and Sputnik have used the #CrookedHillary hashtag. When we fact checked his claim after publication and after RT refuted the claim, we found the claim to be false, with respect to RT and have altered his reported claim accordingly.

Of course, that would entail admitting that some of the most celebrated experts on Russia — to say nothing of the ones at PropOrNot hiding behind anonymity — get sloppy with their accusations. WaPo chose not to do that though, instead suggesting they, not their chosen expert, had made the error.