[This is the appended transcript of my regular KVMR commentary broadcast on 22 March 2017.]
This week FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress about ongoing investigations concerning Russia influencing last year’s election, and the alleged ‘wiretapping’ of Trump’s campaign. There were a lot of questions to ask about what happened, and almost all questions focused on who did what when. Most of these questions missed the mark because they presupposed activities involving a surveillance system whose overall complexity and operating parameters were not established. Were these known, then they would have given rise to more cogent and revealing questions about who could have done what when. Here’s what I would have asked first.
- Do you understand how the term ‘wiretapped’ was used by the President? Please explain.
- Do we all agree that US intelligence assets can access modern communication channels in and outside the cloud from multiple points here and abroad?
- Does anyone – individuals or agencies – have the comprehensive catalog of all US government accessible communications data?
- In the same vein, does anyone know or can identify all our country’s repositories of surveilled data?
- And again, does anyone have an inventory of the contents of the various repositories, along with their collection policies?
- Does anyone or you claim to know all that your agency does in its communication surveillance activities – specifically, all the automated data recording and storing, which data is decrypted, algorithmically scanned, monitored, which is done by in-house vs contract personnel, and so on?
- Does anyone know which captured communications are or have been monitored – that is selectively identified, decrypted, and their contents heard or read – by a machine or by a human?
- When you say that ‘I have no evidence’, or ‘I don’t know of any evidence’, or ‘I have received no evidence’ regarding a given matter, does that also mean that your agency has no such evidence? If not, then from your testimony, how are we to assess the existence of such evidence?
- Given your personal knowledge of your organization, is it possible to reliably state that certain specific communications data do NOT exist in known repositories or to which your agency has access?
- If such records are known to exist, are there operational means in place that log the accesses to the stored data?
- Within your current surveillance systems is it possible for lower level operators to access, on their own volition, virtually any communication channel that originates and/or terminates in the US, its territories, and its foreign-based operations (e.g. the military)?
- We routinely exchange intelligence data with our friends and allies. To your knowledge do any of these exchanges include revealed identities of US citizens?
- Since your agency’s security has been demonstrably compromised (e.g. the General Flynn affair), and you have yet to determine the source(s) of the leak, and the size of the breach, what assurances can you give to Americans and our allies that our intelligence data is properly secured?
- In your investigation of the impact of Russia’s confirmed hacking of America’s political institutions, have you identified any plausible means by which Russian activities could have influenced our election’s outcome? If so, please outline some of the more obvious ones that you have considered or are still working on.
- Finally, since we know that damaging classified information has been criminally compromised without yet confirming whether or not it was a commissioned release, can you conceive of any way that a politically powerful person in our government, outside the intelligence community, could surreptitiously request and receive information from your data stores or from ongoing surveillance operations? Please elaborate.
My name is Rebane, and I also expand on this and related themes on Rebane’s Ruminations where the addended transcript of this commentary is posted with relevant links, and where such issues are debated extensively. However my views are not necessarily shared by KVMR. Thank you for listening.
[Addendum] The following expansions refer to their correspondingly numbered questions above.
- ‘Wiretapped’ today is broadly understood by the educated to denote any surreptitious means of capturing or ‘intercepting’ communications by a party unknown to the communicants. Restricting to physical wire taps today is a cynical interpretation designed to serve other agendas.
- Today there are literally uncounted points along a multi-hop communication channel which may serve as the loci for capturing a given communications data stream.
- The clear answer to this question is an unqualified NO. Given how large bureaucracies work, there is no central or unified collection point or ‘clearing house’ for such a massive surveillance job as carried out by our intelligence community and law enforcement agencies.
- Same as point #3 above. It is highly doubtful that all the repositories are known by any single agent or intelligence unit. Consider the what happened on 9/11 and the inter-agency exchange/sharing failures that have occurred since then.
- Same as points #3 and #4 above.
- Again, such information is at best known in a distributed fashion across our intelligence community, and when known it usually has a large ‘time late’ component impressed by inter-departmental transmission protocols and just plain politics.
- Do we really believe that any outfit such as the FBI or the NSA knows what communications data it has squirreled away in its bowels and what is the actual post-capture workflow status of each piece of data?
- An agency head’s personal knowledge is immaterial to the congressional inquiry which is interested in the agency’s data inventory and processing workflows.
- It is inconceivable that any head of a large surveillance agency can make a believable claim as to what specific data it does NOT have somewhere in its stores – see also #2 and #7. The claim of non-existence is at best a specious and/or hubristic one.
- An important answer that bears on the credibility and the verity of all the other questions.
- A NO answer to this question would boggle a reasonable mind even casually familiar with the workings of an intercepting work station.
- Again, an important answer that bears on the level of data exchanges in which international parties participate.
- A most interesting answer indeed, especially if it is given without guile.
- If such plausible means don’t exist or cannot be identified, then how can such an investigation be directed? The effort would then needs be compared to a blind hen pecking for seeds on barren soil.
- If the agency head claims that in the US government there exist no such paths to corruption, then he is either dissembling or we are blessed with a government selectively pure beyond any known historical norm, since we do know of many other practiced paths to corruption in our federal and state governments.
[23mar17 update] Chairman Nunes’ revelation that 1) broad based ‘incidental’ surveillance sweeps do indeed occur as Judge Napolitano reported, 2) Team Trump was indeed surveilled – either incidentally or targeted - and the big one, 3) for some reason these recorded communications were transcripted and the transcripts delivered to the White House. Why this is not causing a bigger stir across the country is a puzzle to me, for then who in the administration ordered that such surveilled communications be transcripted and delivered to 1600 Pennsylvania?
[26mar17 update] Some readers, especially of the progressive bent, have been confused by what to them is an impenetrable logic behind some of the above questions, particularly #8 repeated below.
When you say that ‘I have no evidence’, or ‘I don’t know of any evidence’, or ‘I have received no evidence’ regarding a given matter, does that also mean that your agency has no such evidence? If not, then from your testimony, how are we to assess the existence of such evidence?
For one commenter it was “clear” that “if there is no evidence there is no reason to assume that the event (‘wiretapping’ Team Trump) happened.”, which he also formulated as “the absence of evidence that something does not exist is not evidence that it does exist”. Without trying to untangle the tortured logic that attempts to connect these two awkward propositions, let’s just go back to the larger case at hand here that involves the FBI and Director Comey.
It has been long known and recently confirmed that our intelligence agencies have done and continue to do communications intercepts with and without FISA permissions. It is known as well that such communications are also gathered automatically by multifarious means at uncounted points in the vast and complex cloud-based communications channels. Sometimes these collected communications data are labeled as “incidental” to denote or deny that there was purpose behind the activity. That happens to be the real world – we do it and so do other countries.
Since such unlawful ‘wiretaps’ occur and are leaked from our Deep State – e.g. witness Clapper’s lie to Congress and the criminal release of Gen Flynn’s name – it is imperative to have the Director confirm the reality of this hidden world in which the right hand knows not what the left hand does, and moreover, perfectly logical to presume the existence of precursor processes which ultimately result in such lies/denials and information releases.
In the technical sense the causal chain leading up to ‘wiretapping’ Trump and (as subsequently revealed by Chairman Nunes) delivering transcripts of such communications to the White House has a high probability of existing, therefore Comey’s response to #8 is material to assessing such a probability in the Bayesian sense. This sequence of logical enquiry is one of the routine processes in the work of science, and a recent article by physicist Frank Wilczek (25mar17 WSJ) nicely illustrates this in his discussion of the discovery of new heavy particles motivated by the structure of supersymmetry.
Evidence was moot on the existence or non-existence of certain heavy particles. But the search for evidence to establish that such particles could exist was called for by a proposition even further down the resulting causal chain – namely the supposed existence of dark matter to explain the structure and behavior of galaxies in our universe. In short, the evidence was presumed to be there and should be verifiable if a more powerful collider could be brought to bear on the matter. And this was one of the ‘supportable logics’ that gave rise to the construction of CERN’s super-collider near Geneva and the resulting confirmation of the large hadron’s existence, which served to complete the standard model of sub-atomic particles, which then increased the verity that dark matter exists. Had the type of thinking machinery evinced by our erstwhile commenters been dominant, we would still be sitting on our thumbs wondering how to proceed.
Quite often in science and other affairs of man one must undertake a logical/causal jump to establish the existence of something new that is not possible to see if we expanded only from something that is already known. In short, the large continent of human knowledge surrounded by an ocean of unknowns is expanded not only by extending existing beaches seaward, but by also risking the building of offshore islands and then building causeways back to the mainland. For the technically read, string theory today is such an island and there is a mighty effort to join it to the rest of science. In any case, logic is hard and logics are many. Were it easy, everyone would sound sane.
[28mar17 update] This morning the National Review online published ‘The Russian Farce’ by Victor Davis Hanson. Hanson gives us a needed concise history of the Dems’ and Obama administration’s relations with Russia, and then goes on to corroborate in chapter and verse the points made in these pages over the years regarding which of America’s ideological cohorts is the true friend of Russia and collectivist autocracy required to impose globalism. In his dissertation, Hanson’s analysis corroborates every point in this commentary, and takes us to the next level of questions which the House Intelligence Committee should ask after the above groundwork has been laid.