ELDER PATRIOT – This morning’s session was a tale of two ideologies.
The Republicans appeared to be asking questions that might later be used to establish two things. They were trying to define the depth of the fake news epidemic that seems to infect the mainstream media in only one direction – one in almost pathological opposition to President Trump.
They also sought to establish who inside the Intelligence Community had access to the information that has been leaked,
Here’s an example of the exchanges between Trey Gowdy and F.B.I. Directory James Comey:
Rep. Gowdy: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Director Comey, you and I were discussing the felonious dissemination of classified material during the last round. Is there an exception in the law for current or former U.S. officials who request anonymity?
Director Comey: To release classified information?
Gowdy: Yes, sir.
Gowdy: Is there an exception in the law for reporters who want to break a story?
Comey: Well, that’s a harder question, as to whether a reporter incurs criminal liability by publishing classified information.
Gowdy: Well, I don’t know about that, but the statute does use the word publish, doesn’t it?
Comey: It does, but that’s a question I know the Department of Justice has struggled with through administration after administration.
Gowdy: I know the department struggled with it, the fourth circuit struggled with it, lots of people struggled with it, but you’re not aware of an exception in the current dissemination of classified information statute that carves out an exception for reporters?
Comey: No, I’m not aware of anything carved out in the statute. I don’t think a reporter’s been prosecuted, certainly in my lifetime, no.
You gotta love Trey Gowdy. He didn’t stop there.
Gowdy: Well, there have been a lot of statutes at bar in this investigation for which no one’s ever been prosecuted or convicted, and that does not keep people from discussing those statutes, namely, the Logan Act. In theory, how would reporters know a U.S. citizen made a telephone call to an agent of a foreign power?
Comey: How would they know legally?
Comey: If it was declassified and then discussed in a judicial proceeding or a congressional hearing, something like that.
Gowdy: And assume none of those facts are at play, how would they know?
Comey: Someone told them who shouldn’t have told them.
Gowdy: How would a reporter know about the existence of intercepted phone calls?
Comey: Same thing. In a legitimate way, through an appropriate proceeding where there’s been declassification, and any other way in an illegitimate way.
Gowdy: How would reporters know if a transcript existed of an intercepted communication?
Comey: Same answer. The only legitimate way would be through a proceeding, appropriate proceeding. The illegitimate way would be somebody told them who shouldn’t have told them.
Gowdy got the answers he wanted on the record. Either our intelligence agencies are leaking to the Washington Post and the New York Times, or these bastions of “journalistic integrity” are inventing and disseminating news for their own purposes.
Gowdy went further in his questioning but this provides a feel for the thrust of his questioning regarding the possibility that the leaks were a product of fake news.
He then moved on to the scope of how many investigators within the intelligence community (IC) would’ve known the identity of any American that had been unmasked pursuant to FISA warranted surveillance. This would constitute the pool of prospective leakers if it is determined that the Washington Post and New York Times printed their stories on the basis of files from government informants.
Gowdy: What does the term mask mean in the concept of FISA and other surveillance programs?
Comey: As Director Rogers explained, it’s our practice, approved by the FISA court, of removing the names of U.S. persons to protect their privacy and their identity, unless it hits certain exceptions. So, masking means, as Mike Rogers said, I’ll often see an intelligence report from NSA that will say, U.S. person number one, U.S. person number two, U.S. person number three and there’s no further identification on the document.
Gowdy: Admiral Rogers said that there are 20 people within the NSA that are part of the unmasking process. How many people within the FBI are part of the unmasking process?
Comey: I don’t know for sure as I sit here. Surely more, given the nature of the FBI’s work. We come into contact with U.S. persons a whole lot more than the NSA does because we may be conducting — we only conduct our operations in the United States to collect electronic surveillance, to conduct electronic surveillance — so I can find out the exact number. I don’t know it as I sit here.
Gowdy: Well, I think, Director Comey, given the fact that you and I agree this is critical, vital, indispensable — a similar program is coming up for reauthorization this fall with a pretty strong headwind right now — it would be nice to know the universe of people who have the power to unmask a U.S. citizen’s name, because that might provide something of a roadmap to investigate who might have actually disseminated a masked U.S. citizen’s name.
Comey: Sure. The number is relevant. What I hope the U.S., the American people will realize is the number’s important, but the culture behind it is, in fact, more important, the training, the rigor, the discipline. We are obsessive about FISA in the FBI for reasons I hope make sense to this committee, but we are — everything that’s FISA has to be labeled in such a way to warn people, this is FISA, we treat this in a special way. So, we can get you the number, but I want to assure you, the culture of the FBI and the NSA around how we treat U.S. person information is obsessive, and I mean that in a good way.
Gowdy: Director Comey, I am not arguing with you, and I do agree the culture is important, but if there are 100 people who have the ability to unmask and the knowledge of a previously masked name, then that’s 100 different potential sources of investigation. And the smaller the number is, the easier your investigation is. So, the number is relevant. I concede the culture is relevant. NSA, FBI, what other U.S. government agencies have the authority to unmask a U.S. citizen’s name?
Comey: I think all agencies that collect information pursuant to FISA have what are called standard minimization procedures, which are approved by the FISA court that govern how they will treat U.S. person information. So, I know the NSA does, I know the CIA does, obviously the FBI does. I don’t know for sure beyond that.
Gowdy: How about the department of — how about main justice?
Comey: Main justice I think does have standard minimization procedures.
Gowdy: All right, so that’s four. The NSA, FBI, CIA, main justice. Does the White House have the authority to unmask a U.S. citizen’s name?
Comey: I think other elements of the government that are consumers of our products can ask the collectors to unmask. The unmasking resides with those who collected the information
Gowdy: Do you know whether Director Clapper knew the name of the U. S. citizen that appeared in “The New York Times” and “Washington Post”?
Comey: I can’t say in this forum, because again, I don’t want to confirm that there was classified information in the newspaper.
Gowdy: Would he have access to an unmasked name?
Comey: In some circumstances, sure. He was the Director of National Intelligence, but I’m not talking about the particular.
Gowdy: Would [Obama’s C.I.A.] Director Brennan have access to an unmasked U. S. citizen’s name?
Comey: In some circumstances, yes.
Gowdy: Would National Security Advisor Susan Rice have access to an unmasked U. S. citizen’s name?
Comey: I think any, yes, in general, and any other national security advisor would, I think, as a matter of their ordinary course of their business.
Gowdy: Would former White House Adviser Ben Rhodes have access to an unmasked U. S. citizen’s name?
Comey: I don’t know the answer to that.
Gowdy: Would former Attorney General Loretta Lynch have access to an unmasked U. S. citizen’s name?
Comey: In general, yes, as would any attorney general.
Gowdy: So, that would also include acting A.G. Sally Yates?
Comey: Same answer.
These answers show Gowdy’s intention to help Drain the Swamp by broadening the investigation to identify who (if anyone) the leakers were and may still be, and what their relationship may be (if there are any) to the media outlets that reported the leaks.
It is inarguable that leaks occurred or that false news was deliberately disseminated by Trump’s enemies inside the Deep State and reported on by the Washington Post and the New York Times unless they fabricated the story on their own (highly unlikely.)
It wouldn’t be the first time America’s IC used their contacts in the mainstream media to craft public opinion as the Church Committee discovered in 1975 when then C.I.A. Director William Colby admitted to 400 reporters and columnists on their payroll. Even if this isn’t the case here, it would be naïve to discount that with an IC as large as ours there are no leakers.