by John Solomon The Hill Nov 4, 2018
In the summer of 2014, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper sent a letter assuring Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that enhanced monitoring of Intelligence Community workers was designed to find leakers and insider threats, and was not intended to thwart lawful whistleblowing.
Specifically, America’s top spy told the two senators that if any protected whistleblowing was intercepted by the Obama administration’s new monitoring, it wouldn’t be used to tip off spy agency leaders.
“In the event a protected disclosure from a whistleblower somehow comes to the attention of personnel responsible for monitoring user activity, there is no intention for such disclosure to be reported to agency leadership under an insider threat program,” Clapper declared in his July 25, 2014, letter.
Clapper even cc’d then-CIA Director John Brennan on his letter, an apparent heads-up to America’s most famous spy shop, the Central Intelligence Agency.
It turns out that entire pledge was false and disingenuous. And it took us four years and a new presidential administration to get the truth.
Just four months before Clapper penned that letter, the CIA intercepted one or more whistleblowers’ disclosures, legally submitted and intended to go to Congress through the Intelligence Community’s official whistleblowing office.
And the intercepts were briefed to CIA leadership, contrary to Clapper’s assurance.
The disclosure was contained in two memos declassified this past week from the Intelligence Community’s inspector general.
“On 19 March 2014, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) security notified me that they had conducted an inquiry prompted by routine counterintelligence (CI) monitoring of Government computer systems,” then-Inspector General I. Charles McCullough III wrote in a memo dated March 28, 2014.
“As a result of this inquiry, CIA CI personnel obtained emails between our Executive Director of Whistleblowing & Source Protection and Congressional staff,” the memo added. “Most of these emails concerned pending and developing whistleblower complaints. CIA security compiled a report that includes excerpts of these whistleblower-related communications, and this report was eventually shared with CIA management.”
You have to stop for a second to appreciate the magnitude of what that memo discloses.
Whistleblowers who legally submitted concerns and believed they were being protected had their communications intercepted and unmasked. And sensitive oversight communications with Congress potentially protected by the Constitution’s separation of powers were intercepted. And all the information was briefed to CIA leadership, contrary to Clapper’s representations.
And, lest you wonder, yes, Clapper was sent a copy of the McCullough memo, which makes his letter to Congress a few months later all the more laughable, if not despicable.
The crafty Clapper might try to argue he was technically accurate because he claimed to Congress it was never the intention of the IC to compromise these whistleblower communications by sharing them with agency leadership, but McCullough’s memos put an arrow through that defense, too.
A written report summarizing what was intercepted from the whistleblowers’ efforts to communicate legally with Congress was given to the CIA chiefs of security and counterintelligence. And then the information was briefed orally to Brennan’s deputy and his chief of staff, according to a subsequent March 31, 2014, memo from McCullough.
So to be clear, CIA officials took the time to extract the whistleblower information from the intercepts, wrote a report and then shared that information with CIA management. That took time and intention that cannot be denied.
You might imagine that those in Congress who were given a bogus answer four years ago are now rightfully indignant, as well as frustrated that it took so long to make the memos public. And you’d be right.
“The fact that the CIA under the Obama administration was reading Congressional staff’s emails about intelligence community whistleblowers raises serious policy concerns as well as potential Constitutional separation-of-powers issues that must be discussed publicly,” Grassley said in a statement sent to me Friday. “I have been asking the same question for years: what sources or methods would be jeopardized by the declassification of these notifications? After four and a half years of bureaucratic foot-dragging, led by Directors Brennan and Clapper, we finally have the answer: none.”
“The CIA has a vitally important function, especially when it comes to their critical counterintelligence work, but nothing — nothing — should inhibit or interfere with Congress’ constitutional job and protecting whistleblowers,” Grassley added. “Since the inception of this country, blowing the whistle has played an integral role in maintaining good government. It would be unacceptable and unpatriotic to overlook any action that could dissuade responsible citizens from disclosing waste, fraud and abuse in our government.”
America owes a debt of gratitude to the CIA and our other intelligence agencies for the unheralded work they do each day to keep us safe from a rising tide of counterterrorism, counterespionage, cyber attacks and foreign threats.
But that pride, appreciation and trust of the American people does not give license for their leaders to mislead Congress, to trample the Constitution or to interfere with lawful whistleblowing.
The current administration would do well to serve notice to the Clappers and Brennans of the world that such behavior should, and will, be punished.
John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists’ misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption.
Recently declassified documents show that the former CIA director and former director of national intelligence approved illegal spying on Congress and then classified their crime. They need to face punishment,
by John Kiriakou ConsortiumNews Nov 11, 2018
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa made a dramatic announcement this month that almost nobody in America paid any attention to. Grassley released a statement saying that four years ago, he asked the Intelligence Community Inspector General to release two “Congressional Notifications” written by former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Grassley had had his requests to declassify the documents ignored repeatedly throughout the last two years of the Obama administration. He decided to try again because all of the Obama people at the CIA and DNI are gone now. This time, his request was approved.
So what was the information that was finally declassified? It was written confirmation that John Brennan ordered CIA hackers to intercept the emails of all potential or possible intelligence community whistleblowers who may have been trying to contact the Congressional oversight committees, specifically to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Simply put, Brennan ordered his people to hack into the Senate email system—again. Grassley is the longtime chairman of Judiciary Committee, and he was understandably appalled.
First, let me explain what a Congressional Notification is. The CIA is required by law to inform the Congressional oversight committees whenever one of its officers, agents, or administrators breaks the law, when an operation requires Congressional approval because it is a “covert action” program, or whenever something happens at the CIA that’s potentially controversial and the Agency wants to save itself the embarrassment of explaining itself to Congress later.
Brennan apparently ordered his officers to spy on the Senate. Remember, back in 2014 his officers spied on Intelligence Community investigators while they were writing the Senate Torture Report. This time, he decided to inform Congress.
But Brennan and Clapper classified the notification. It was like a taunt. “Sure, I’m spying on Congress, which is illegal. But it’s classified, so what are you going to do about it?”
Grassley went through the proper channels. And even though Brennan and Clapper essentially gave him the middle finger, he didn’t say anything until the documents were finally declassified. He’s a bigger man than I.
I think Grassley missed an opportunity here, though.
First, it’s my own opinion that John Brennan belongs in prison. He has flouted U.S. national security laws with impunity for years. That’s unacceptable. In these declassified notifications, he’s confessing to hacking into the Senate’s computer system. That’s a violation of a whole host of laws, from illegal use of a government computer to wire fraud to espionage. There ought to be a price to pay for it, especially in light of the fact that Brennan was the leading force behind the prosecutions of eight national security whistleblowers during the Obama administration, almost three times the number of whistleblowers charged under the Espionage Act by all previous presidents combined. I think Grassley missed an opportunity here, though.
Second, it’s a crime, a felony, to overclassify government information. Most Americans have no idea that that’s the case. Of course, nobody has ever been charged with it. But it’s a serious problem, and it’s antithetical to transparency. The CIA Inspector General said of the notifications, “I could see no reason to withhold declassification of these documents. They contained no information that could be construed as sources and methods.” That’s an admission that the notifications were improperly classified in the first place.
Grassley added, “There is a strong public interest in (the notifications’s) content. I do not believe they need to be classified at all, and they should be released in their entirety.”
Grassley went so far as to call out Brennan and Clapper by name. “What sources or methods would be jeopardized by the declassification of these notifications? After four-and-a-half years of bureaucratic foot-dragging, led by Brennan and Clapper, we finally have the answer: None.”
So why weren’t they declassified four years ago? Remember, it’s illegal to classify a crime. And it’s illegal to classify something solely for the purpose of preventing embarrassment to the CIA. Yet those were the very reasons for classifying the documents in the first place. It was because Brennan and Clapper think they’re somehow special cases. (Recall that it was Clapper who lied directly to the Senate Intelligence Committee about intercepting the communications of American citizens. He also did that with impunity.)
Brennan and Clapper think the law doesn’t apply to them. But it does. Without the rule of law, we have chaos in our country. The law has to apply equally to all Americans. Brennan and Clapper need to learn that lesson the hard way. They broke the law. They ought to be prosecuted for it.
John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.
(Header image: On June 5, 2017 whistleblower and former CIA/NSA contractor Dennis Montgomery filed a federal lawsuit [Dennis Montgomery, et. al, vs. James Comey, et.al.] against President Barack Obama, former CIA Director John Brennan, former FBI director James Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the NSA, the CIA and other former and current government officials.
The suit claims the defendants failed to investigate Montgomery’s whistleblower reports of illegal surveillance on Donald Trump and millions of other Americans.)