So there was surveillance after all?
“Trump team communications captured by intelligence community surveillance, committee chair says”, news.com, March 23, 2017:
A TOP intelligence chief has partially backed Donald Trump’s wire-tapping claims, saying the US president was surveilled “inappropriately”.
Devin Nunes, the Republican Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, revealed overnight that some of the US President’s personal communications had been caught up in “incidental” surveillance involving a foreign power in the months after the election.
Nunes said the information, which he said was obtained from a source he did not identify, was collected legally in November, December and January — from the November 8 election to Trump’s January 20 inauguration — but the names of some Trump officials involved had been “unmasked” and the communications “widely disseminated” within spy agencies.
US intelligence community rules dictate that information on US citizens picked up incidentally in surveillance must be scrubbed or masked in intelligence reports.
“I recently confirmed on numerous occasions the intelligence community incidentally collected intelligence,” Nunes told reporters.
“I have seen intelligence reports that clearly show that the president-elect and his team were, I guess, at least monitored. It looks to me like it was all legally collected, but it was essentially a lot of information on the president-elect and his transition team and what they were doing.”
Nunes said none of the “dozens” of reports he had read mentioned Russia or Russians, adding he had told House Speaker Paul Ryan earlier Wednesday about his findings. He later said he briefed Trump, calling some of the collection “inappropriate”.
Nunes said the surveillance collection was “legally collected foreign intelligence under FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] incidental collection”. But Nunes said he was “alarmed” the intelligence “ended up in reporting channels”.
It was previously reported that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was “unmasked” in this way, however, Nunes said “additional names” were unmasked as well.
He said he didn’t know what foreign intelligence value the surveillance had “and why people would need to know that about President-elect Trump and his transition team”. Nunes did not identify which foreign targets were under surveillance.
Asked if he thought Trump was spied on, Nunes replied: “I’m not gonna get into legal definitions here, but clearly I have a concern.”
Nunes said the revelation came from “sources who thought that we should know it”, and that he was trying to get more information from the FBI, CIA and NSA, Politicoreported.
The revelations could at least partially back up some allegations made by Trump earlier this month, when he tweeted that former President Barack Obama had “wiretapped” him, though top politicians have sharply disputed those claims. FBI Director James Comey also testified earlier this week he had no evidence to support the claims.
Democrats and some Republicans have been sparring over the issue. White House officials, and Republicans including Nunes, have since said that Trump meant general surveillance instead of what Nunes referred to as “physical” wire-tapping.
Trump said on Wednesday that he felt “somewhat” vindicated by Nunes’s announcement.
“There’s a lot of questions that I think his statement raises, and that I hope we can get to the bottom of,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer also said.
“An American citizen who’s caught up in a surveillance has, by rule of law, has their name protected. The idea that individuals’ names were unmasked and let known raises serious questions. Why was that name unmasked, what was the intention of doing that?”
Spicer said the NSA had been “very helpful” during the investigation, however, he was unsure if “the FBI is going to comply”.
Nunes made his announcement at a news conference two days after Mr Comey confirmed to a hearing of his committee that it was conducting a criminal investigation of potential links between Trump associates and Russia, as Moscow sought to influence the 2016 US election to benefit Trump.
In response to the announcement, Adam Schiff, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, said that “if accurate, this information should have been shared with members of the committee, but it has not been”.
“Indeed, it appears that committee members only learned about this when the Chairman discussed the matter this afternoon with the press. The Chairman also shared this information with the White House before providing it to the committee, another profound irregularity, given that the matter is currently under investigation.
“I have expressed my grave concerns with the Chairman that a credible investigation cannot be conducted in this way. Because the committee has still not been provided with the intercepts in the possession of the Chairman, it is impossible to evaluate the Chairman’s claims.
“It certainly does not suggest — in any way — that the President was wiretapped by his predecessor.”