The breadth of illegal contractor access to the NSA database was appalling. An analysis of the data extracted in the time period from November 2015 to May 2016 determined that 85% of the queries were non-compliant. The actual number is redacted in the FISC analysis, but from the length of the redaction, we know it is a 5-digit number. We know from that report that the “same identifiers” were used meaning that a single person or a few select people were being targeted. The FISA court report went back further in time to 2012 and noticed that although the six month period from November 2015 to May 2016 saw high activity, there was also activity dating back to that year- 2012- when “about” queries started to show an unusual increase in activity.
Thus, it is likely that this use of the NSA database started sometime in 2012 and it is important to note this year because of the people who occupied offices at that time. Robert Mueller headed the FBI while John Brennan had replaced David Petreaus at the CIA. Mueller’s chief of staff at the FBI was Aaron Zebley who Mueller would later tap as a key lawyer in his 2017 probe. Clapper was DNI. And who wanted Mike Rogers fired in October 2016? Clapper and Brennan. And who signed off on the eventual Russian interference report to Obama with a high degree of confidence? Brennan, Clapper and Comey.
The Collyer report notes that the FISA abuse was not accidental and specifically states it was the result of “deliberate decision making.” She makes this claim through a redacted footnote noting: “[REDACTED] access to FBI systems was the subject of an interagency memorandum of understanding entered into by [REDACTED].” This indicates that the decision to allow outside contractor access to the NSA intelligence was an internal decision and that the Obama administration withheld this information from Congress and the court.
There is little doubt that the FISA 702(16)(17) database system was used by officials in the Obama administration to spy on Americans, particularly political opponents. There is no other honest conclusion given the scale and breadth of abuse dating back to 2012 and its enhanced use during the early part of the 2016 campaign. All these searches were ruled unlawful by Collyer since the targeting of specific identifiers over a long period of time indicated nothing to the contrary. Everything done after the discovery by Rogers that something screwy was going on had a dual purpose. The first purpose was to cover up the political weaponization of the NSA database. Second, they had to keep the surveillance going regardless of what Rogers was doing at the NSA.
But if they did it in 2012, why that year? Was Obama fearful he would lose to Romney? Actually, we find a pattern that has nothing to do with Obama’s worries about losing in November 2012.
Instead, political spying using the apparatus of government seems to be a recurrent theme in the Obama administration. It happened with the Lois Lerner/IRS scandal targeting Tea Party groups and they got away with it. It happened with spying on the Senate and they got away with it. It happened with targeting journalists and they got away with it.
One has to ask how far up the bureaucratic ladder did this lead and we get an understanding based on a national security briefing held in the White House Situation Room to discuss the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Under usual circumstances, the attendees were permitted to bring along an aide, but not this time. We know that Susan Rice chaired the meeting, that it involved a discussion of the DNC hack, and also present were John Brennan, James Clapper, James Comey, Ashton Carter, Jeh Johnson (head of Homeland Security), John Kerry, and Loretta Lynch. The results of this meeting were never placed in Obama’s daily presidential brief on national security and instead relayed personally to the President by Rice.
This was a meeting of the utmost importance in the area of national security. But notice who is absent in that list of names of people who attended- NSA Director Mike Rogers. Notice who is at that meeting- Secretary of State John Kerry which is not an investigative department. Rice later explained that she feared a leak of the meeting and that is why Rogers was never invited. However, every leak of information about any investigation, be it Crossfire Hurricane, the DNC hacking, Fast and Furious, the IRS scandal, or MidYear Exam did not come from the NSA. Is it too much to assume that, given his track record since 2014 at the NSA that Rice simply did not trust Mike Rogers since he ran such a tight ship and had cut off a vital source of intelligence?
It becomes obvious that there was a coordinated effort to use the apparatus of the NSA database to spy on American citizens for no law enforcement purpose other than to gain intelligence, particularly on political opponents.
Why did people like Brennan and Clapper (and others) fear Trump so much, even though they all expressed doubts he would win in November? The answer likely lies in his campaign rhetoric of “draining the swamp,” “lock her up” cries at rallies, and his disparaging remarks about the intelligence community about the Iraq war, the Syrian civil war, Benghazi, the JCPOA, and coupled with what some described as his friendly comments directed at Russia and Vladimir Putin. In short, Trump was promising to tear apart and undo everything the Obama administration counted as an accomplishment.
There is probably only one true good guy hero and that man was Admiral Mike Rogers. Imagine if in September 2015 no one noticed these query searches. Imagine if Mike Rogers never tasked the IG to look into it and report back to him. Imagine if Mike Rogers took that IG report and locked it away in a safe and let business as usual continue. Imagine if Mike Rogers never cut off contractor access to the NSA database.
The Collyer report did not place the blame at the feet of the NSA or Mike Rogers; it singled out the FBI and the national security division of the Department of Justice. The NSA was simply collecting the raw data. They did nothing with it.
The actions of Mike Rogers was nothing short of bravery by standing against a deeply embedded intelligence apparatus. He had a lot to lose by shutting down the query access to private contractors, by going to the FISA court, and standing not in lockstep with the intelligence assessment on Russian interference in the 2016 election. He had a lot to lose by going to president-elect Trump in New York without notifying Clapper or Brennan which prompted Trump to move his transition headquarters to New Jersey. Rogers became a greater defender of American democracy than Brennan, Clapper or Comey could ever hope to be.
Without Mike Rogers, we likely would have never known about any FISA abuses. There would not have been a Horowitz report. If there was no Mike Rogers at the NSA and a Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office, the depth of the spying would have never come to light. We know this because Clinton had a blatant disregard for things that were of no benefit or convenience to her.
Mike Rogers retired from public service in 2018 and now works for a private security firm. In the end, he is a true American hero.
Next: The use of human intelligence