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Latest scandal revelations raise questions on Obama agencies’ roles

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With the avalanche of new disclosures about the Obama Justice Department’s and FBI’s alleged political spying on the Trump campaign and presidential transition, we must ask President Obama and all of his top lieutenants what they knew and when they knew it. 

A good place to start would be with Obama’s CIA director, John Brennan, notorious anti-Trump agitator and apparent ringmaster of the “deep state” resistance.

{mosads}Much of the focus regarding the infiltration and surveillance of the Trump team has been on the Obama DOJ and FBI. But what role, if any, did the Obama CIA play? Did it help concoct the Russian collusion story as a pretext to spy on domestic political adversaries? And if the CIA did act on a prefabricated deception, did it work independently of the DOJ and FBI or in conjunction with them?


In recent weeks, Brennan has escalated his Twitter assault on Trump while watching him dismantle Obama-era foreign policies, from withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Accord to moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Trump is smothering Obama’s progressive “achievements,” halting his leftist revolution; that’s the driving reason behind the Obama team’s obsession with crushing him.

Brennan was uniquely positioned to assist with that, including helping to shepherd the Russia fable right into the waiting maw of multiple investigations which have been used, just as intended, to undercut Trump and ultimately serve as grounds for his removal from office.

Consider some of the Obama team’s critical intelligence gathering moves. As investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson reminds us, in 2011 the “U.S. intel community vastly expand[ed] its surveillance authority, giving itself permission to spy on Americans who do nothing more than ‘mention a foreign target in a single, discrete communication.’ Intel officials also [began] storing and entering into a searchable database sensitive intelligence on U.S. citizens whose communications are accidentally or ‘incidentally’ captured during surveillance of foreign targets.”

The groundwork was thus laid for future potential abuses, including surveilling and unmasking U.S. citizens who happened to be political opponents of the Obama administration.

A few years later, Brennan, then CIA director, made a significant move: he tried to downplay the spying part of the spy business. “We don’t steal secrets,” he said in 2016, to much outrage from former intelligence operatives like John Sipher, who wrote that Brennan also “made clear … that he does not view the CIA as an espionage service.”

That belief governed his direction of the agency’s controversial “modernization” program. While the plan had some wise and innovative elements, such as expanded cyber capabilities, it drastically limited (and, many say, grievously weakened) the agency’s operations division — the core of the CIA’s human intelligence capability.

In its place, Brennan initiated a new construct that, in view of unfolding events, looks like it could have been exploited for potential political abuses: In lieu of heavy reliance on U.S. spies, Brennan’s CIA filled the gaps with foreign intelligence sources, which provided their own spies and the intelligence they gathered.

Even when using friendly intelligence services, the potential problems and dangers with Brennan’s plan were readily apparent, but Brennan plowed ahead with subcontracting aspects of American espionage. That outsourcing allowed Brennan and other intelligence chiefs (such as former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper) to insulate themselves from exposure and responsibility.

Connect that with what we now know about the Obama-era targeting of the Trump team: The Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee hired an opposition research firm, Fusion GPS, which contracted with a former British spy, Christopher Steele (who some say remains in good standing with Britain’s spy agency, MI6). Steele used Kremlin-linked sources, among others, to produce a dubious dossier that may well have served as the basis for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants on the Trump team and, perhaps, for the entire special counsel investigation.

Stefan Halper, the informant essentially outed by the DOJ’s and FBI’s own leaks, reportedly was in communication with low-level Trump aides Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, as well as Trump’s former campaign co-chairman, Sam Clovis. A U.S. citizen, Halper teaches at Cambridge University in Great Britain and is described as having longstanding ties to the FBI and the CIA — and to, you guessed it, MI6, including a “close association” with former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove.

Another professor, Joseph Mifsud, a shadowy (and apparently missing) figure who reportedly connected with Papadopoulos, is also thought to have ties to British intelligence. (No coincidence that several academics are involved; academia is a notorious hunting ground for asset recruitment.)

Alexander Downer — the Australian diplomat and significant Clinton Foundation donor who reported on a boozy chat with Papadopoulos in a London bar in May 2016, which helped justify the FBI’s Trump investigation — also reportedly has direct links to UK intelligence.

How many more characters were involved, about whom we haven’t heard?

On the surface, these informants appear to fit Brennan’s model of using friendly outside intelligence sources while allowing U.S. intelligence chiefs to keep their fingerprints off the case. But instead of providing foreign intelligence, they may have been spying on Americans to serve other Americans’ political purposes. 

This espionage web is extensive and complicated, and much more of the story needs to be told. We won’t know the facts without a full, fair investigation into all of the president’s men and women — Obama’s, not Trump’s. That means a second special counsel/grand jury investigation, a less-than-ideal solution but the only one with any real shot at uncovering the truth. 

Trump’s presidency threatens to expose them all, which explains the cascade of preemptive strikes: Comey’s “memoir,” Brennan’s deflective tweets, Clapper’s disingenuous denials, Hillary’s excuses tour.

If President Obama’s top deputies are, in fact, the architects of the targeting of, spying on and attempted ruination of the duly elected president, they might want to spend less time signaling faux self-righteousness and more time speed-dialing their lawyers. 

Monica Crowley is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, based at King’s College in New York City, which examines national security, energy, risk-analysis and other public policy issues.

Tags CIA George Papadopoulos Hillary Clinton James Clapper John Brennan John Brennan Monica Crowley

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