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Did the Obama administration misuse and abuse NSA intercepts to blackmail members of the Senate and House into supporting the Iran deal? Lee Smith writes that he thinks so:
Increasingly, I believe that my conclusion in that piece was wrong. I believe the spying was real and that it was done not in an effort to keep the country safe from threats—but in order to help the White House fight their domestic political opponents. [Emphasis added.]
“At some point, the administration weaponized the NSA’s legitimate monitoring of communications of foreign officials to stay one step ahead of domestic political opponents,” says a pro-Israel political operative who was deeply involved in the day-to-day fight over the Iran Deal. “The NSA’s collections of foreigners became a means of gathering real-time intelligence on Americans engaged in perfectly legitimate political activism—activism, due to the nature of the issue, that naturally involved conversations with foreigners. We began to notice the White House was responding immediately, sometimes within 24 hours, to specific conversations we were having. At first, we thought it was a coincidence being amplified by our own paranoia. After a while, it simply became our working assumption that we were being spied on.”
This is what systematic abuse of foreign-intelligence collection for domestic political purposes looks like: Intelligence collected on Americans, lawmakers, and figures in the pro-Israel community was fed back to the Obama White House as part of its political operations. The administration got the drop on its opponents by using classified information, which it then used to draw up its own game plan to block and freeze those on the other side. And—with the help of certain journalists whose stories (and thus careers) depend on high-level access—terrorize them.
Who would have access to this sort of unmasking ability? Why, Susan Rice and Ben Rhodes. Remember from yesterday? Ben Rhodes’ brother runs CBS News.
So here’s the procedure, broken down:
Policy Goal -> Listen to foreign agents associated with policy goal -> Surveil and grab American citizen activists and politician communications to foreign agents associated with policy (specifically those against it) -> Give those communications to media -> Start whisper campaign -> Threaten personal or professional security -> Achieve policy goal by fear, intimidation, and treachery.
Here’s how it happened in real time during the Iran deal:
In order to spy on U.S. congressmen before the Iran Deal vote, the Obama administration exploited a loophole, which is described in the original Journal article. The U.S. intelligence community is supposed to keep tabs on foreign officials, even those representing allies. Hence, everyone in Washington knows that Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer is under surveillance. But it’s different for his American interlocutors, especially U.S. lawmakers, whose identities are, according to NSA protocol, supposed to be, at the very least, redacted. But the standard for collecting and disseminating “intercepted communications involving U.S. lawmakers” is much less strict if it is swept up through “foreign-foreign” intercepts, for instance between a foreign ambassador and his capital. Washington, i.e. the seat of the American government, is where foreign ambassadors are supposed to meet with American officials. The Obama administration turned an ancient diplomatic convention inside out—foreign ambassadors were so dangerous that meeting them signaled betrayal of your own country.
Here’s where the press collusion comes in. Remember Ben Rhodes quote about “clueless journalists”? How easily he manipulated them. Read the New Yorker profile to understand him. This quote is particularly damning for the President:
One day, when Rhodes and I were sitting in his boiler-room office, he confessed, with a touch of bafflement, “I don’t know anymore where I begin and Obama ends.”
So, if Rhodes was involved and Susan Rice was involved (which she had to be), the unmasking strategy was right at the top and used over and over. Just a bit more on how close Rhodes was to the President:
Part of what accounts for Rhodes’s influence is his “mind meld” with the president. Nearly everyone I spoke to about Rhodes used the phrase “mind meld” verbatim, some with casual assurance and others in the hushed tones that are usually reserved for special insights. He doesn’t think for the president, but he knows what the president is thinking, which is a source of tremendous power.
Ben Rhodes has been particularly vociferous on Twitter. Proclaiming that focusing on Susan Rice or the Obama administration is focusing on the wrong crime. Trump, of course, is the scary guy (who neither Brennen nor Comey have accused with any sort of collusion with Putin) who Rhodes and others have smeared with innuendo but no facts. Seems rather like the implications made against the pro-Israel opponents of the Iran deal. Back to Lee Smith:
To make its case for the Iran Deal, the Obama administration redefined America’s pro-Israel community as agents of Israel. They did something similar with Trump and the Russians—whereby every Russian with money was defined as an agent of the state. Where the Israeli ambassador once was poison, now the Russian ambassador is the kiss of death—a phone call with him led to Flynn’s departure from the White House and a meeting with him landed Attorney General Jeff Sessions in hot water.
But the [Iran] campaign was mostly conducted sotto voce, through whispers and leaks that made it clear what the price of opposition might be.
The reason the prior abuse of the foreign-intelligence surveillance apparatus is clear only now is because the Russia campaign has illuminated it. As The New York Times reported last month, the administration distributed the intelligence gathered on the Trump transition team widely throughout government agencies, after it had changed the rules on distributing intercepted communications. The point of distributing the information so widely was to “preserve it,” the administration and its friends in the press explained—“preserve” being a euphemism for “leak.”
This process is an abomination and the Obama administration seems to have regularly, habitually and systemically used every agency at their disposal for political purposes.
No search warrants. No alleged crimes. No public accusations.
Innuendo. Threats. Abuse and use of a complicit media to manipulate voters and American citizens to vote or act a certain way. This is horrendous stuff and the real problem with the Russia investigation isn’t Russia or Twitterbots or phone conversations with the Russian ambassador that happen in the course of doing foreign policy and business work. These are normal, institutional things that happen.
The real crime is that a delusional left wing and NeverTrump holdouts are frothing at the mouth willing to bring down an American President by any means necessary. Should they succeed, they will have watered the seeds of banana republic corruption planted by the Obama administration.
This will be Obama’s real legacy.