Spy agencies spying on people? Unthinkable!
Judge Andrew Napolitano brings British spy agency into Trump wiretapping mix
By Tatiana Prophet
FOX News columnist Judge Andrew Napolitano, in using an anonymous source to make allegations about government wiretapping, has become the main actor in an international incident. He has also garnered criticism from media counterparts, including Slate magazine and CNN Money.
"Enter James Bond," Napolitano wrote in a column on March 16, referring to the British agency Government Communications Headquarters.
The commentator, whose views are known to be libertarian, wrote that "sources" told him that GCHQ "most likely provided [President] Obama with transcripts of [Donald] Trump's calls."
According to Napolitano, even though President Obama technically did not need a special warrant to wiretap Trump in Trump Tower before the election, as the president has now famously claimed in a tweet, he would have still left a paper trail, and therefore would have perhaps had a motive to obtain his information from the British agency.
"Obama would not have needed a warrant to authorize surveillance on Trump," he wrote. "Obama was the president and as such enjoyed authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to order surveillance on any person in America, without suspicion, probable cause or a warrant."
He continued: "FISA contemplates that the surveillance it authorizes will be for national security purposes, but this is an amorphous phrase and an ambiguous standard that has been the favorite excuse of most modern presidents for extraconstitutional behavior."
"In the early 1970s, President Richard Nixon used national security as a pretext to deploying the FBI and CIA to spy on students and even to break in to the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, one of his tormentors."
Napolitano's assertion was repeated by White House Spokesman Sean Spicer in a news conference, making it appear that the President and his team were accusing its closest ally of illegal activity.
GCHQ was quick to deny the allegations, in a statement quoted in The Telegraph from a GCHQ spokesperson: "Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct 'wiretapping' against the then president elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored."
Napolitano's bombshell accusation also prompted articles across the pond such as "Who is Andrew Napolitano?" and outrage from many citizens of our closest European ally, taking the accusations, as a personal insult to their country, and not their spy agency.
To many who read and watch mainstream media, the accusations appear "wing nut," as Slate had in its link name for the article (though nowhere else). The reaction to this latest wrinkle in "wiretap-gate" is predictable given that most governments would not openly or readily admit to covert operations. That is the domain of rogues like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.
The thing is, reports have appeared for more than a decade in the same publications that are now scoffing at Trump's wiretap claims, about both the National Security Agency and its counterpart, GCHQ, that appear to back up at least some of Napolitano's claims, and make his most damaging claim about President Obama seem a little more plausible. It makes one wonder, do these reporters read their own publications? And apparently, their anonymous sources are good enough to become permanent record, while an allegation by a loudmouth President are "baseless," and even a "lie."
The New York Times, December 16, 2005
Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts
CNN, December 17, 2005
Bush says he signed NSA wiretap order
But this link is not there:
(Watch Bush explain why he 'authorized the National Security Agency ... to intercept' -- 4:29)
New York ACLU Warrantless Wiretapping Timeline
In a 2013 article on the NSA's secret PRISM program, the Washington Post exposed cooperation from key tech companies with data collection: "Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who had classified knowledge of the program as members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, were unable to speak of it when they warned in a Dec. 27, 2012, floor debate that the FISA Amendments Act had what both of them called a “back-door search loophole” for the content of innocent Americans who were swept up in a search for someone else."
Here are the actual slides obtained from the NSA describing data collection.
After the 2013 PRISM revelations (revealed by Edward Snowden), Congress passed the U.S.A. Freedom Act, which was supposed to end phone and Web data collection. But according to this article in Fortune magazine, the data collection has never ended. Given the information on how easy it is to pull up conversations by phone number, one would be hard-pressed to imagine how conversations by a candidate such as Donald Trump would not be pulled and collected. And of course there would be denials. In fact, the idea that Trump would publicize his suspicions is odd, given the idea that it seems the government doesn't even have to actually wire tap a building, but can just pull a transcript out of a database.
A year ago, Guardian columnist Samuel Gibbs wrote about GCHQ offering password advice when what the British public was really worried about was surveillance. And PCMagUK mused that the British public was probably more worried about being spied on than someone hacking into their Netflix account.
And just on March 8, The Telegraph reported that Wikileaks' recent CIA document leak reveals that both the United States and the United Kingdom had developed ways to spy on people through their televisions -- even when they're off -- by using a fake "off" mode, among other tactics!
But we don't need Wikileaks to tell us that the government can collect surveillance on any American citizen simply by issuing a subpoena to the phone company. If you don't believe it, check out what happened to 20 AP reporters in 2013.
And many traditional media sources have reported on the fact that the NSA has not ended its bulk data collection, that there are still loopholes by which they can spy on U.S. citizens -- provided they are in a conversation with a suspicious person abroad, or from outside the United States.
It's understandable to a degree that some have pounced on Judge Napolitano for citing anonymous sources, since he is a columnist and not a reporter. His actions are not without precedent, though; in 2003, the former reporter and columnist Robert Novak used anonymous sources in discussing the hunt for evidence Saddam Hussein sought out uranium yellowcake in Africa, and exposed the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame in the process.
And speaking of anonymous sources, their use and overuse was noted by columnist Ronald Goldfarb in 2009. Goldfarb wrote a book, In Confidence — When to Protect Secrecy and When to Require Disclosure.
It bears noting that conflicting reports on "Bondgate," both here and in Britain, are coming from anonymous sources. This raises the question: who are these anonymous sources? What are their motives, and shouldn't we look for corroboration when they speak out? Oddly enough, the intelligence that made the case for going to war with Saddam Hussein turned out to be, in fact, a forgery perpetrated "peddled by what the CIA calls a con man," in Robert Novak's words.
So, going forward, doesn't that make it supremely important to make sure, when we act on information, that we're really getting it right? In this case, it seems that corroboration is literally under our noses in the form of President Bush's admission he authorized warrantless wiretapping, and evidence released by Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks regarding both the NSA and the GCHQ. And how can we forget the famous revelations by German magazine Der Spiegel that Barack Obama authorized the NSA to wiretap Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany?
Ironically, headlines claiming the U.S. had apologized for airing Napolitano's accusation were published in The Telegraph from an anonymous source (see above). White House sources, anonymously of course, said an apology never happened, even quoting one directly as speaking the familiar phrase "no way, no how."
Judge Napolitano left the judiciary in 1995 and began a career in media not long after. He is also a syndicated columnist for The Washington Times, FOX News, Reason and World Net Daily. That last one is considered a conspiracy site by some.