We begin with an examination of one of the worst abuses of government power that could happen in our society. Illegal spying on U.S. citizens. Amid findings about egregious violations by our intelligence community, there’s a criminal investigation. And the court that approves surveillance on U.S. citizens has instructed the FBI to implement new safeguards as of this week. As our intelligence agencies face what may be their biggest scrutiny in decades, we examine how we got here.
Our examination of government surveillance controversies begins in 2001. Under FBI Director Robert Mueller, new rules were imposed to address FBI abuses.
FBI Agents had repeatedly gotten caught submitting false information to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to justify wiretapping or spying on U.S. citizens.
The new protections called “Woods Procedures” were named for the FBI official who helped devise themMichael Woods. He’s seen here testifying to Congress.
Michael Woods: There is significant public concern about the impact of surveillance activities on the privacy and civil liberties of Americans.
The Woods Procedures require the FBI, all the way to the top, to strictly verify each fact in a wiretap application. Now, eighteen years later, those very rules are back in question. More on that later.
First, we go to Salt Lake City, Utah in 2002 and a National Security Agency whistleblower named Thomas Drake. Drake said the NSA was “fine [tuning] a new scale of mass surveillance” and secretly conducted “blanket surveillance” of “virtually all electronic communications going into or out” of the area during the Winter Olympics. Intel officials denied it.
In 2009, FBI whistleblower Shamai Leibowitz stepped forward and accused intel agencies of serious constitutional violations and illegal “abuse of power.”
As the government secretly expanded its surveillance powers in the name of national security there were shades of what was later to come in 2016.
Intelligence officials began to listen in on members of Congress— sometimes political rivals— speaking with American-Jewish groups and foreign officials including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A senior official confessed it “raised fears [of]—an ‘Oh-[blank] moment,’—that the executive branch would be accused of spying on Congress.”
Someone illegally leaked information about private calls made by Democrats Jane Harman and Dennis Kucinich and even leaked actual recordings of Kucinich calls with Libyan officials.
Saif Gaddafi: Hello
Dennis Kucinich: Yes sir.
Gaddafi: This is Saif speaking.
Kucinich: Yes. This is Dennis.
Journalists were targeted, too. Government agents initiated secret surveillance and subpoenas against then Fox News reporter James Rosen and 20 Associated Press reporters. They also secretly hacked into and monitored my computers while I worked at CBS News.
CBS News: Someone has been breaking into the computer of our investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.
An internal email by a global intelligence firm laid some blame at the feet of then Homeland Security adviser John Brennan.
“Brennan is behind the witch hunts of investigative journalists learning information from inside the beltway sources. There is specific tasker from the [White House] to go after anyone printing materials negative to the Obama agenda.”
Brennan went on to head up the CIAwhere questions continued to build. In 2014, the CIA Inspector General revealed that under Brennan, five CIA officials had improperly searched through staff emails of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Brennan had denied it — but apologized after the IG report.
John Brennan: But what I really want to do is to have as much dialogue as possible with you to have that trust can be built up.
Meantime, at a public hearing, Democrat Ron Wyden asked another top intel official, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, about mass surveillance on innocent U.S. citizens.
Sen Ron Wyden: Director Clapper, I want to ask you about what I asked you about a year ago. Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions, or hundreds of millions of Americans?"
James Clapper: "No, sir."
Wyden: "It does not?"
Clapper: "Not wittingly.
Clapper’s testimony proved false. He later apologized saying he’d misunderstood the question.
It was NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in June 2013 who blew the lid off just how massive and intrusive the government’s surveillance dragnet had grown.
Edward Snowden: You can't come forward against the world's most powerful intelligence agencies and be completely free from risk because they're such powerful adversaries that no one can meaningfully oppose them. If they want to get you, they'll get you in time.
President-elect Donald Trump received a similar warning from the Democrats’ Senate leader Chuck Schumer after Trump criticized sitting intelligence officials.
Sen. Charles Schumer: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”
Sure enough, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz recently concluded the FBI committed egregious errors in targeting Trump associates for investigation and surveillance during the 2016 campaign.
Donald Trump: Today is our Independence Day.
Michael Horowitz: We are deeply concerned that so many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate, hand-picked investigative teams on one of the most sensitive FBI investigations.
On their way out, Obama officials secretly listened in on conversations between Trump officials and others including at Trump Tower.
They wiretapped former Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page as if a Russian spy.
To get the wiretap, an FBI lawyer allegedly doctored a document.
And the FBI used evidence that turned out to be unverified political opposition research bought by the Clinton campaign and delivered to the FBI and the media.
Less than two weeks before the 2016 election, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s lead judge Rosemary Collyer secretly slammed Obama intel officials over a series of surveillance violations she’d just learned about. She accused the NSA of “institutional lack of candora very serious Fourth Amendment issue” and demanded fixes.
Intelligence officials deny doing anything wrong. They say their motivations were never political or to spy but to protect national security and that whenever they’ve discovered issues, they’ve taken steps to correct them.
In a speech and Congressional testimony, Trump FBI Director Christopher Wray claimed there’s never been any abuses of surveillance authority known as “702” although the court has documented numerous examples.
Christopher Wray: There’s been no evidence of any kind of abuse of power under Section 702 despite all the oversight I mentioned before, with the three branches of government and quite a few years of experience now.
In the end, those who blew the whistle on alleged government abuses paid a price. The NSA’s Thomas Drake was prosecuted for mishandling documents and made a plea deal. The FBI’s Shamai Leibowitz was prosecuted for leaking to the media.
Snowden: It’s a fear I’ll live under for the rest of my life.
And Edward Snowden is charged with three felonies in his absence from the U.S.
This story ends today back at square one where it began. According to the Inspector General’s report last month, FBI officials violated the Woods Procedures when they wiretapped Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page repeating the very mistakes the Woods Procedures were set up to avoid 15 years before.
There’s news regarding Sharyl's computer intrusions. A former government agent who admits he took part in the illegal surveillance operation against her has now stepped forward to provide information and implicate his colleagues. He says many US citizens were illegally spied on in the same way. And a former FBI Unit Chief has also publicly confirmed he initiated the original forensics that proved the government was involved. You can read more at SharylAttkisson.com.