During an appearance on “The O’Reilly Factor” on Wednesday night, famed Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward weighed in on the whole mess surrounding President Donald Trump‘s claims that members of his campaign and transition team were subject to wiretaps or other electronic surveillance by the Obama administration.
From almost the moment Trump sent out the inflammatory and less then well thought out tweet, his opponents jumped all over it and it took on a life of its own. Before too long, headlines were essentially reading that Trump accused Obama of personally wiretapping Trump tower. The President did himself no favors by refusing to clarify his statements and his refusal to backdown has potentially allowed a real story of possible criminal activity by Obama administration officials to essentially go unnoticed. That is something that should be alarming to all Americans.
As Woodward seemed to suggest recently, it appears members of the Obama administration were likely talking to the press about the content of electronic telephone intercepts of foreign diplomats that happened to also include American citizens — and informed the press of the identities of the American citizens too. Woodward discussed this scenario during his recent interview and suggested it would be a “gross violation” for members of Trump transition team to be named in surveillance reports of foreign diplomats. Yet, that is what happened to Michael Flynn and it is partly the reason he lost his job as National Security Advisor. Though, the more that comes out about his prior consulting contracts with questionable countries, he likely wouldn’t have lasted anyway. Nonetheless, that does not excuse the way he was forced out through what appear to be illegal leaks of phone intercepts.
The process of Americans getting caught up in foreign surveillance happens, with some regularity, but the American citizen’s identity is supposed to be a highly guarded secret, and the individual’s name is only supposed to be known by a small number of people – about 20 according to Woodward. But that is not how it reportedly happened in the final days of the Obama administration. Instead of following normal protocol, Woodward suggested there was a “really serious problem potentially of people in the Obama administration passing around this highly classified gossip” and that exposed names like Gen. Flynn’s.
Woodward’s reporting was based on statements from the Democratic Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, who said he learned in a recent briefing (unrelated to the investigation into Trump’s possible Russian connections) that there were instances where members of Trump’s transition team (and possibly even Trump himself) had their identities “unmasked” after their communications with foreign leaders were caught by U.S. surveillance operations.
Woodward said if Nunes’ remarks were, indeed, true, it would be a “gross violation” of standard practices that call for “minimization.” In other words, steps are supposed to be taken to ensure the Americans’ identities are protected and masked in intelligence reports — thus, minimizing the chance their identities are disclosed.
“You can learn all kinds of things from diplomats gossiping, because that’s what occurs. Under the rules, and they are pretty strict, it’s called minimization,” Woodward explained. “You don’t name the American person who is being discussed.”
The veteran journalist did not go so far as to give any credence to Trump’s claims of Trump Tower surveillance, but he did caution people against reflexively dismissing the Nunes claims, or mixing them with Trump’s thus far unproven allegations, and missing out on a major potential underlying story.
Woodward added that if a decision was made to “unmask” those Americans caught up in the surveillance, it “could be criminal on the part of people who decided, oh, let’s name these people.” He suggested the amount leaks could indicate “you’ve got a real serious problem potentially of people in the Obama administration passing around this highly classified gossip.”
LawNewz columnist Robert Barnes recently went into great detail about the possible implications of what could happen to members of the Obama administration who illegally ordered or disclosed secret surveillance details, including “unmasking” persons, to members of the media, especially if it was for for political purposes. Some may have laughed at the time, but with Nunes recent remarks, Mr. Barnes theory may not be so implausible after all.
[image via screengrab]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.