$100 Million NSA Program Produced Exactly Two Unique Leads 

NSA logo

Mass surveillance, whether you approve of it morally, is not practical. It does not enhance the safety of the American people.

The results are in:

only twice during that four-year period did the program generate unique information that the F.B.I. did not already possess, said the study, which was produced by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and briefed to Congress on Tuesday. “Based on one report, F.B.I. vetted an individual, but, after vetting, determined that no further action was warranted,” the report said. “The second report provided unique information about a telephone number, previously known to U.S. authorities, which led to the opening of a foreign intelligence investigation.”

The report did not reveal the subject matter of the one significant F.B.I. investigation that was spurred by the Freedom Act program, and it did not divulge its outcome.

As an expenditure of tax dollars, mass surveillance was a virtually complete waste of my money.

Source: N.S.A. Phone Program Cost $100 Million, but Produced Only Two Unique Leads – The New York Times

FBI’s Former Top Lawyer: ‘There Was No Attempted Coup’

James Baker, former FBI general counsel

James Baker, formerly the top lawyer at the FBI, said politics did not figure in the Bureau’s decision to investigate possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. The probe started before the Bureau received the dossier of Michael Steele, former British intelligence agent, Baker said in a live video interview on Friday.

James Baker, former FBI general counsel
James Baker, former FBI general counsel

Baker, under Bureau investigation for possible leaks, reiterated the FBI’s claim that the investigation was appropriate.

Baker said the investigation of possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia began with a tip that was impossible to ignore. In summer 2016, he said, Australian officials relayed that George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, had boasted of having “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent, in the form of “thousands of emails.” Baker said that while the bureau is constantly investigating Russian activities in the United States, it had not — at least to his knowledge — been

“That was the nugget of information that got everything going,” he said, adding later, “It would have been a dereliction of our duty not to investigate this information.”

This is credible. Such a tip about any candidate would have been investigated.

Baker insisted the initial investigation was “not predicated” in any way on the controversial dossier — a collection of intelligence reports from a former British agent that the Clinton campaign hired through an opposition research firm to investigate Trump.

In any case, the Steele dossier was only one piece of evidence used to justify an investigation that has resulted in one conviction and six guilty pleas, with charges pending against 25 Russians, and two Americans. The Steele dossier did not figure in most of these cases.

Baker has been widely quoted in conservative media as saying his review of a FISA warrrant based on the Steele dossier was “unusual.” The quote came from closed-door testimony released by House Republicans in January. 

“So that is why you took the abnormal or unusual step in this particular situation because it was sensitive?” a Republican asked Baker.

“Yes,” he replied, adding, “I wanted to make sure that we were filing something that would adhere to the law and stand up over time.”

And the FISA application did stand up. It was approved by four judges, all of them appointed by Republican presidents. 

Source: ‘There was no attempted coup’: FBI’s former top lawyer defends Russia probe – The Washington Post

How the FBI Profiles: From Bookstores to ‘Black Identity Extremists’

Drum and Spear - Sq
Drum and Spear - Hz
FBI Target: the Drum and Spear book store in Washington DC.

Last month Professor Joshua Clark Daniels excavated a forgotten story from the files of the FBI: the Bureau’s surveillance of black-owned bookstores from 1968 to 1974. 

Spying on bookstores might seem quaint in the the age of mass surveillance but there is a connection: how U.S. intelligence agencies see and understand their most vocal and active opponents.

The bookstore surveillance, ordered in 1968 by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, was part of the Bureau’s Counterintelligence Program. Better known as COINTELPRO, the program sought to infiltrate, disrupt, harass, and destroy radical and leftist organizations.

The targets were selected not because of any suspicion of illegal activity but because of their ideological opposition to the U.S. government policies and their support among the general public. 

Clark:

At the height of the Black Power movement, the FBI conducted investigations of such black booksellers as Lewis Michaux and Una Mulzac in New York City,  [and] Paul Coates in Baltimore (the father of The Atlantic national correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates).

One particular target of FBI attention: the Drum and Spear bookstore in Washington DC.

Founded in 1968 by Charlie Cobb, a former secretary for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the bookstore became a center of the civil rights/black power movement in Washington, DC. Its organizers set out to create a local resource for reliable information about the African American and African world. The store appealed to people of African descent, wherever they lived.

Drum and Spear specialized in books written by black authors and books on Asian, African, and African American subjects. It quickly developed into a combination bookstore, library, community center, and “literary haven,” according to Professor Daphne Muse of Mills College. Muse noted, “It wasn’t uncommon to see Toni Morrison and Amiri Baraka browsing the shelves alongside diplomats and regular folk.” 

With such radical agitation taking place a couple of miles from FBI headquarters, J. Edgar Hoover was naturally concerned. The racist FBI director wanted to know everything about such a dangerous place.

The director ordered each Bureau office to “locate and identify black extremist and/or African-type bookstores in its territory and open separate discreet investigations on each to determine if it is extremist in nature.” Each investigation was to “determine the identities of the owners; whether it is a front for any group or foreign interest; whether individuals affiliated with the store engage in extremist activities; the number, type, and source of books and material on sale; the store’s financial condition; its clientele; and whether it is used as a headquarters or meeting place.’

What Has Changed?

More recently, the FBI has targeted so-called “Black Identity Extremists” (BIE), whom it described as “terrorists” and a threat to law enforcement. 

In an August 2017 report, the Bureau said:

“The FBI assesses it is very likely Black Identity Extremist (BIE) perceptions of police brutality against African Americans spurred an increase in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement and will very likely serve as justification for such violence.”

The FBI report said that Micah Johnson, who shot and killed five police officers in Dallas in August 2017 after a Black Lives Matter protest, was “influenced” by “BIE ideology.”

The memo also asserts that “BIE groups” in the 1960s targeted law enforcement officers, as if there was some connection between the Black Liberation Army (a violent group that did not hang out in bookstores) and the organizations like Black Lives Matter that protest police violence today.

There is no connection, not historically, not ideologically. Micah Johnson wasn’t a member or contributor to the Black Lives Matter movement, and Black Lives Matter doesn’t advocate or condone violence against police officers. To the contrary, it advocates that elected officials and law enforcement agencies–not vigilantes–prevent and punish the use of deadly against black people.

The FBI report was circulated to 18,000 law enforcement officers nationwide.

Fabrication

When the American Civil Liberties Union  and the Center For Media Justice  and others sought more information about the FBI’s treatment of “black identity extremists,” the Bureau refused to turn over any information.

Last month, the ACLU and CM sued for the FBI’s records of “black identity extremists.” They say:

The fabrication of a “Black Identity Extremist” threat is the latest example in a sordid history of efforts to harass, discredit, and disrupt Black activists who dare to use their voices to call out white supremacy. At the turn of the 20th century, law enforcement targeted Ida B. Wells and Marcus Garvey as “race agitators.”  The FBI’s Counterintelligence Program (“COINTELPRO”) deployed covert activities against Martin Luther King, Jr., the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Black Panther Partyel-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz (previously known as “Malcolm X”), and Ella Baker in the 1950s and 1960s. …. Government crackdowns on Black protest were wrong in the past and have no place in our present. 

There is a common denominator between FBI spying on bookstores in the 20th century and FBI spying on “black identity extremists” in the 21st century.

Then as now, the national police perceives criticism–and peaceful protest–of law enforcement practice as a potential threat and a potential locus of law-breaking. So they investigate. Secretly.

Source: The FBI’s War on Black-Owned Bookstores – CityLab

How a High School Class Penetrated the Veil of Secrecy and Forgetting

A group of high school student from Highstown, New Jersey did something fairly amazing this year: They took effective action against government secrecy. They wrote a law, and, in a bitterly divided Congress, they got it passed. And President Trump signed it.

Highstown High
Highstown High students with Sen. Doug Jones (third from left) who sponsored their bill to protect records of civil rights era cold cases. (Credit: Cissy Jackson/Washington Post.)

The students in Stu Wexler’s American government class, persuaded Congress to preserve and publicize the records of infamous lynchings and other unpunished acts of racial terrorism from the civil rights era.

From The Washington Post:

The class lobbied to line up sponsors, get the bill out of committees in both chambers of Congress, have it voted on and approved just before Christmas, and then signed into law last month by President Trump.

Wexler, author of a book on the assassination of Martin Luther King, proved an able guide to the world of legislation and secrecy. (Full disclosure: Wexler is a friend.)

Rep. Bobby Rush, a former Black Panther turned Congressman from Chicago, sponsored the House bill. Sen. Ted Cruz, the pro-Trump conservative from Texas, signed on to the Senate bill.

A number of congressional historians believe it may be the first time a high school class successfully drafted a federal bill that was signed into law on any subject, much less one exposing some of the darkest secrets of the events that helped inspire America’s civil rights movement

When I got in touch with Stu, he was no ready to celebrate.

Stu Wexler, high school teacher who guided his students to passing the Civil Rights Cold Cases bill (Credit: Stu Wexler).

” I have grown almost [Bill] Belichickean on these matters,” he told me. Getting the bill passed was like winning the AFC championship game. “But we have a laser-like focus now on getting an appropriation and board appointments before we throw the parade. And I don’t even like the Pats.”

The success of these students have achieved so far is a reminder that there is a constituency for truth in Washington. But you can never stop pushing for it.

What Can I Do?

The Post story comes a month after the American Truth and Reconciliation Committee published a Joint Statement calling for the reopening of the investigation of the four political assassinations of the 1960s: John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy.

“The consequences still haunt our nation,” says Adam Walinsky, former speechwriter for RFK.

Yet, incredibly enough, the government still retains secret records about these assassinations that it has never made public. Empowered by  President Trump’s quietly-executed order of October 2017, the CIA and FBI have White House permission to withhold more than 15,000 JFK files from public view.

In introducing the Highstown students’ cold case bill last July, Sen. Doug Jones, Alabama Democrat, said, “The American people have a right to know this part of our nation’s history,”

The same is true for the history of the assassinations of the 1960s. We need a law to force still-secret or forgotten records into public view. When people say “it can’t be done,” “it happened too long ago,” “young people don’t care,” I say, just read this article.

Source: ‘From students in high school all the way to the president’s desk.’ How a government class fought for the release of unsolved FBI civil rights case files. – The Washington Post

Go to The Truth and Reconciliation Committee for more information.

Know the Facts: “Trump Caves to CIA on JFK Files Secrecy.”

Sign the Petition: “Call for Congress to Reopen Assassination Probes.”

Leaked FBI Testimony Doesn’t Bolster Trump’s ‘Deep State’ Theories

Lisa Page, FBI agent

With Democrats now in control of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, new details are emerging about the Republican investigation of the FBI’s handling of the investigation of presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Two transcripts, leaked to the New York Times and the Epoch Times respectively, show how senior FBI officials viewed Donald Trump’s rise to power: with deep apprehension.

What they don’t reveal is what Republican congressmen were seeking to prove: the existence of a “deep state” FBI cabal to bring down the president.

Page Turner

Lisa Page, FBI agent
Lisa Page, FBI agent (Credit; ABC News)

The testimony of senior agent Lisa Page was of special interest to Trump’s allies on the investigative committee. Page was having an affair with Peter Strzok, senior FBI counterintelligence officer, in July 2016 when she was brought into the investigation of the Trump’s entourage.

Republican investigators had obtained–and leaked–text messages in which Strzok and Page both denounced Trump. When the texts came to the attention of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, he took Strzok off the investigation.

Republican congressman failed to get Page to say anything that substantiated Trump’s claim that the FBI investigation was launched on the basis of the so-called Steele dossier, written by British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.

The investigation was underway before she even knew Steele’s name, Page said:

As of August of 2016, I don’t know who Christopher Steele is. I don’t know that he’s an FBI source. I don’t know what he does. I have never heard of him in all of my life. So let me just sort of be clear. When the FBI first receives the reports that are known as the dossier from an FBI agent who is Christopher Steele’s handler in September of 2016 at that time, we do not know who—we don’t know why these reports have been generated.  We don’t know for what purpose.

Page said that the Bureau regarded the possible collusion of the Trump campaign with Russians as a much higher counterintelligence priority than the issue of Hillary Clinton’s email server, which was three years old at that point. Page added that the Bureau had no forensic evidence that a foreign government or actor had gained access to Clinton’s server.

Perhaps the most revealing moment in Page’s testimony came when she agreed with an unnamed congressman that the FBI had not begun investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice prior to the firing of Comey.

“Obstruction of justice was not a topic of conversation during the timeframe you have described,” she told an unnamed Congressmen. Then, upon advice of an FBI lawyer, Page withdrew the claim saying the answer was relevant to Mueller’s ongoing investigation.

Does that mean the FBI was investigating Trump before Comey was fired? Page dodged the question.

Mostly, Page’s testimony provides a granular picture of the FBI investigation and tensions between the Justice Department and the Bureau.

Baker’s Recipe

The testimony of James Baker, FBI general counsel, shown to the New York Times, shows Trump’s actions disturbed the Bureau’s leadership.

If the president had fired Mr. Comey to stop the Russia investigation, the action would have been a national security issue because it naturally would have hurt the bureau’s effort to learn how Moscow interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Americans were involved, according to James A. Baker, who served as F.B.I. general counsel until late 2017.

As result, Baker said, the Bureau opened a counterintelligence (CI) investigation of Trump. Unlike a criminal investigation, a CI investigation does not necessarily seek to identity violations of the law, merely actions of a foreign government that is hostile to the United States.

The revelation of the CI investigation of Trump coincides with revelations that Trump has concealed his conversations with Russian president Vladmir Putin from other senior U.S. officials.

Based on what we know from these reports, Page and Baker’s interrogators sought evidence to buttress Trump’s attacks on the FBI. They came up with precious little, which is probably why the closed-door testimony was not made public or leaked while the Republican majority controlled the committee.

Last September, the committee voted to release around fifty transcripts from the committee’s investigation. To date, only two transcripts have been made available. The new committee chairman Rep Adam Schiff has promised to expedite the release of the rest of the transcripts. .