Spygate and the NSA- Part 2: The Possible Contractors

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File

In part 1, I outlined how the NSA became aware and concerned about outside contractor access to NSA communications queries.  Today, we look at who these contractors possibly were.

Let’s go back a little in time and revisit Dennis Montgomery.  Around this time, if we are to assume for the sake of argument that the HAMMER project had been weaponized by Brennan and Clapper to spy on Americans, HAMMER was receiving some airplay in the news in the Arpaio case in Arizona.  It became too hot for Brennan and he had to drop it.  Perhaps it is then that he unleashed a cadre of independent outside contractors to access NSA databases which was discovered by Rogers who put a halt to it.  They had successfully tarnished the reputation of Montgomery through stories in Playboy and Wired.  Nobody in the mainstream press took Montgomery’s word for anything.  The attacks on Rogers seem like a replay of those tactics up to and including terminating Rogers over alleged faulty intelligence about ISIS and revealing cyber secrets that occurred before his tenure as head of the NSA.

Once again, the Strozk-Page text messages shed some light on events.  On the very day that it was discovered that private contractors had accessed the NSA database using query requests, Page texted Strozk: “Need to fix a huge fuck up.”  She later insinuated that someone in the DC field office of the FBI was responsible for the “fuck up.”  This occurred sometime in April 2016, well before Crossfire Hurricane.  

Rogers, based on the earlier IG report, requested a more detailed report.  It was on October 20, 2016 that he was given a full briefing on the depth of the query violations.  Realizing that there were serious problems with the system, he shut down all access.  His earlier order only affected contractors.  This new order directly targeted everyone, including the DOJ and FBI.  Six days later, he informed Judge Rosemary Collyer of the violations.  

October 2016 is a key month.  Aware of the problems with compliance, the Assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s national security division, John Carlin, went before the FISA court and certified the government’s Section 702 programs on September 26th.  Carlin announces his retirement the following day.  After Rogers is briefed on October 20th,  he follows the chain of command and notifies the DOJ he is shutting down all “about” queries.  That very day, the DOJ went to the court fully knowing about the compliance issues, sought, and was granted a warrant on Carter Page.  Later, Clapper and Brennan go to the White House to request that Rogers be fired.  Thus, on September 26, the FBI and DOJ were aware of Carlin’s fraudulent omissions in the yearly certification process.  On the day they got the warrant on Page, they still had not informed the court of the compliance issues.

The IC was preparing a report to Obama about Russian interference in the 2016 election.  The report was a joint draft between the CIA, DNI, and NSA, all of whom had to sign off on it before submitting it to Obama.  This report was the brainchild of James Clapper.  The report ended with a caveat that the CIA and DNI had a high degree of confidence in the report while the NSA expressed only moderate confidence.  

We do not know what contractors used the NSA database to perform queries, but it is likely, given the close associations between Fusion GPS, Christopher Steele, and the FBI, that they were probably one such contractor.  It is likely that the DOJ and FBI sought a FISA warrant on Page because their contractor access was shut down, followed by all access for “about” queries.  They were then seeking surveillance on Page the “right” way- by going to the FISA court and getting a warrant.  

However, that is troublesome since some of the backbone for probable cause for that warrant was obtained by illegal means- the previous queries.  Secondly, it is troublesome because the DOJ hid very significant facts from the court about (1) the certification, and (2) the compliance issues.  Additionally suspicious is the fact that Bruce Ohr, another deputy attorney general, sometime in October between the certification on September 26 and the day Rogers went to the FISA court in October, met with Glenn Simpson, the head of Fusion GPS, the firm responsible for the Steele dossier.  Bruce Ohr is married to Nellie Ohr who was employed by Fusion GPS.  The conflict of interest here is obvious.  Also obvious is the fact that Carlin was working in coordination with the FBI counterintelligence division (Strozk and Priestap).

When Rogers went to Judge Collyer on October 26, he noted that the unauthorized queries were of the same “identifiers” over different date ranges.  This means that metadata for specific individuals was extracted from the NSA database repeatedly at different times from November 2015 to May 2016.  The non-compliant audit date range coincides exactly with the time of the Republican Party primaries.  One can state with a high degree of confidence that the “identifiers” were phone numbers, email addresses, cell phones, and IP addresses associated with Trump.  It is also interesting to note that on the day Mike Rogers cut off contractor access to the queries, Mary Jacoby, the wife of Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS, visited the White House.  

The original IG reports could not determine if the unusual amount of queries was out of the ordinary since they only looked at a specific time range.  That range is important since it coincides with the GOP primary season which started with 17 candidates.  That meant that 17 candidates had to be “researched.”  After the early primaries, only five candidates remained.  Trump then goes on to dominate Super Tuesday and the following week win more primaries making him the clear front runner.  It was then that the compliance review was delivered to Rogers.  Collyer’s later report noted “many of these non-compliant queries involved the use of the same identifiers over different date ranges.”  Put in layman’s terms, attributes belonging to a particular individual were being targeted and illegally queried.  It seems obvious that the “target” was Trump and members of his campaign team.

We do not know who conducted the queries, but there is circumstantial evidence that the queries were conducted as a form of political espionage.  When Rogers shut down access,  Mary Jacoby went to the White House.  We do not know who she met with or what was discussed.  But we do know that within days, if not hours, after that meeting the DNC and Clinton campaign contracted with Fusion GPS which then contracted with Christopher Steele.  Further, since we do not know the outside contractors, we can make further guesses of who was conducting the queries.  For example, we know that CrowdStrike was an FBI contractor who would later contract with the DNC over their hacking problems.  Further, CrowdStrike was led by Shawn Henry, a former FBI counterintelligence official.  Daniel Richman was another unpaid “special employee” given access to the database.  He was also a close personal friend of James Comey.  

 On March 28, unknown to Trump, he walked into a mistake that would allow the DOJ and FBI to continue their surveillance, perhaps legally this time while also using  human sources.  On that date, Trump hired Paul Manafort as his campaign manager.  At this time there was still talk of a contested convention as some Republicans were leery of Trump for a variety of reasons.  

Manafort was a known entity to the FBI and had once been under investigation.  Manafort’s entry into the Trump orbit gave Fusion GPS and Glenn Simpson the perfect opportunity to inject their prior research into the narrative.  There was now in place a template for shifting from unauthorized access of the NSA database to legally exploit that same database.

Next: Part 3- Why Mike Rogers is the lone hero in this saga