[OK this is long. TL;DR – The FBI actions described in the Nunes memo are symptomatic of a much deeper problem]

The Nunes memo is out and tells us very little we didn’t know. In fact, apart from specifically naming names, I think it only tells us two rather technical details that we didn’t already know. The first is that Carter Page was being investigated under Title I not Title VII:

The FISA ‘warrant’ request, against Carter Page, was made October 21st, 2016, under Title I of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Meaning the surveillance application was specifically stating, to the court, the U.S. individual was likely an actual agent of a foreign government, ie. “a spy.”

The DOJ (National Security Division) and the FBI (Counterintelligence Division) were not asking to review ancillary data collected on U.S. Person Carter Page as an outcome of surveillance on a foreign person, or foreign agent; that would be Title 7 (FISA-702).

In action outlined within the HPSCI memo, the DOJ and FBI were specifically telling the FISA court they had evidence that U.S. Person Carter Page was working as an agent of a foreign government. He was their target, and therefore requesting direct FISA Title 1 surveillance of that target on October 21st, 2016.

The prime, possibly the only, justification – apart from the fact that Page had worked in Moscow (in 2013) and had contacts with at least one known Russian agent – for this appears to have been the Steele Dossier that was funded by the Clinton campaign and which was later described by Comey in part as “salacious and unverified.” That is an interesting statement given that Comey was one of the people who signed off on the FISA request in October 2016 and on two of the subsequent renewals and that at other times he and others stated that they had barely started trying to confirm its veracity in December 2016.

The other detail is that the investigation started off investigating George Papadopoulos in July 2016. It is unclear how that moved to suspicion of Carter Page as “there is no evidence of any cooperation of conspiracy between Page and Papadopoulos” although it seems that FBI agent Peter Strzok, he of the Trump hating text messages, was involved in the Papadopoulos investigation.

Thus it seems likely (“insurance policy” etc.) that he helped to leverage the Papadopoulos investigation and the Steele dossier to start surveillance of Page. Given that as noted above Page was investigated under Title I, surveillance must have included recording all of Page’s phone calls which would of course have included those he had with Trump, as candidate, President elect and eventually President. Hence when Trump tweeted that his wires were tapped he was in fact correct even if the terminology was not that of a professional cyber-intelligence person.

Lots of Smoke, No Fire

Let me summarize what we know (not all of this is from the memo):

  1. In March 2016 FBI agent Peter Strzok sends a text to his DoJ girlfriend talking about “insurance” in the event that Trump wins.
  2. At the time he is part of the team investigating the Clinton email server and sanitizing the report on it so that it whitewashes Clinton, Obama and everyone else.
  3. In May/June 2016 Strzok changes the langauge in Comey’s report about Clinton from “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless” and someone (possibly him) removes references to Obama receiving emails from Clinton’s private email address
  4. In June/July 2016 George Papadopoulos, a young Trump staffer, first met some Russians and then drunkenly told an Australian diplomat about the meeting. Almost certainly he greatly exaggerated the importance to the diplomat.
    (Later on, when interviewed by Mueller’s team he explicitly tried to play down those same contacts. This latter was a bad move because the FBI/Mueller already had evidence of what they were so he was then guilty of lying to the government.)
  5. The Australian diplomat told someone who eventually told the FBI who started to investigate him
  6. At about the same time the Clinton campaign paid Steele (via various cutouts) to compile as much opposition research on Trump as possible
  7. Part of Steele’s research was to ask Russians, whom he knew were connected with Russian intelligence services, what they knew about Trump and Trump associates.
  8. The Russians told him about Carter Page and he dutifully stuck that in his dossier – verification of the Russian claims appears to have been limited to confirming that Page was in Moscow when they said he was.
  9. In September Steele, probably with the knowledge and approval of Fusion GPS if not the Clinton Campaign, started to shop his completed dossier around to as many journalists as he could as well as NeverTrump republicans and so on.
  10. At about the same time the dossier was also brought to the attention of the FBI and DoJ and no mention was made of its provenance, indeed at the time FBI and DoJ people were either deliberately incurious or concealed knowledge (or both) about the dossier’s funding and its author’s likely biases. Even though they did apparently pay him for the work he’d already done.
  11. In mid/late October 2016 the dossier, and the Papadopoulos investigation, is used to get a Title I FISA warrant to spy on Page. Corroboration for the dossier is limited to a Yahoo news article that derived from Steele. No mention is made of the source of the dossier or that its claims are essentially unverified.
  12. Shortly afterwards the FBI becomes aware that Steele has been talking to lots of journalists, this is a big no-no regarding confidentiality and he is no longer a trusted informant.
  13. Despite this the FBI continues to monitor Page and all his contacts including the President(elect) under the warrant and in fact renews it multiple times. At no point do they mention to the court that Steele’s dossier was created under shifty conditions
  14. In January Comey briefs Trump on the dossier (and says it’s rubbish). He then ensures that this briefing is itself leaked to CNN so as to keep it in the news.
  15. He also starts leaking his own confidential memos to the NY Times via Professor Daniel Richman.
  16. The Comey memos and all the Steel dossier noise eventually convinces Rod Rosenstein to appoint Robert Mueller to investigate “collusion” between Trump and Russia.

Where’s the beef?

Put all this together and what do we see?

  1. No evidence has emerged from any of this that the Trump campaign had anything more than minimal and perfectly legitimate contacts with Russia
  2. On the other hand lots of evidence has emerged that Strzok and McCabe at the FBI plus Yates, Ohr and various others at the DoJ were strong Clinton supporters – Comey seems more mixed but he certainly seems to have leaned Clintonwards and given how he staffed his investigation Mueller seems much the same.
  3. The MSM is busily telling everyone that there’s nothing to see, move along please, don’t mind the enormous donkey in the room.
  4. There is in fact an enormous donkey in the room – the FBI and DoJ took the “indict a ham sandwich” route to search for dirt, spread innuendo about and generally destabilize Donald Trump, his campaign and his administration. Critically they continued to do this after the inauguration (and hence the election).

The media are wrong and in their haste to deny what is obvious they are further eroding the trust that center-right people have in them and in the state as a whole. This state of affairs is made worse (for them) by the fact that Trump does not appear to be the temperamental dictatorial extremist he was predicted to be. In fact Trump has generally speaking governed the way most on the Right hoped someone would but feared would never happen. Perhaps worse for Trump’s opponents, it seems pretty clear that his tax reforms are going to cause a lot of economic growth within the USA and thus doom their hopes of taking back at least one house of congress from the Republicans. This no doubt explains the panic in the Democratic party, their desperation to stop the memo, divert attention from it and generally try and blame Trump for miscellaneous assorted mopery and dopery.

The bureaucracy is equally keen on having the memo – and indeed everything else regarding possible FBI malfeasance – disappeared because otherwise it becomes clear that the bureaucracy – or at least it’s head – is not impartial and not only very definitely preferred Clinton to Trump but also did their best to grease Clinton’s path while obstructing Trump’s. That’s a very, very bad thing. It should be something that worries Americans of all political stripes, as John Kass (amongst many others) points out the media’s reaction would have been a bit different if something like this had played out in 2008:

 [B]efore the left pulls out one more strand of hair in anger, or makes one more banshee scream of outrage on cable news or in social media over “the memo,” I’d like them to at least have the decency to consider the following:

What if it came out that a Republican-funded opposition research dossier against presidential candidate Barack Obama was used to obtain a secret FISA warrant to put Obama’s aides under surveillance and take him down?

And what if the federal judge who granted the warrant wasn’t told that the partisan oppo-research was the basis of the surveillance warrant?

Or, what if senior FBI officials running the investigation of Obama had expressed loathing for the candidate and his voters?

#Resist & Derp State

Unfortunately for the bureaucrats, I don’t think it’s working. All in all the #Resist movement in Washington DC, particularly it’s bureaucratic arm – the so-called Deep State – looks like they have over-reached, and this over-reach has now been disclosed to the wider world. In fact they seem to have been so keen to find ways to get Trump in trouble with Russians that they have probably handed him a bunch of “get out of jail free” passes, should he turn out to need them.

This is a mixed blessing. On the one hand the fact they appear to be so tone deaf and sure of themselves that their misdeeds are likely to be found out fairly quickly and if they continue the misdeeds will convince everyone but the blind partisans of the left that they are a problem. On the other hand the USA does in fact need to be able to trust its government.

The FBI and other security services have faced a trust problem for decades. It’s just that at various times the people distrusting them have been of different political stripes (and some have been quite reasonably painted as kooks and weirdos) so while there hasn’t been much trust there hasn’t been the feeling that they are picking on/protecting people with specific political views. Recently (the last decade or so – from about the second part of the GWB’s presidency) that changed and all the leaks and other misbehaviours seemed to go in one direction.

After eight years of Obama and a whole load of government departments acting as if the law did not apply to them: the DOJ with Fast and Furious and DACA lying; the IRS; the IRS again; the EPA; the BLM etc. and mostly getting away with it, people have started to notice. In fact more than notice, they’ve started to insist that their elected representatives do the oversight that they are supposed to do. In the last year those representatives have indeed begun to do so, but they have noticed that the very bureaucrats who don’t allow ordinary citizens the benefit of the doubt when they say they’ve lost critical documents, seem to have become mighty sloppy with regard to their own internal document handling. It’s almost as if they aren’t Deep State but Derp State.

Combine this apparent inability to handle data with their expectation that they should be allowed to get away with it and you have a perfect starting point for widespread mistrust of the DC bureaucratic establishment. It is perhaps understandable that they thought they could get away with it because the MSM has spent the last year focusing on Trump’s twitter feed and “Russia”. However, despite all the #FakeNews attempts, the various alternate media, and some conservative/libertarian bits of the MSM, have got enough of the story out that the politically informed Americans (the people that were Tea Partyers in 2010, the people who were the anti-antifa in 2017 and so on) are paying attention and the telling their friends.

Echoes of “Climategate”

Allow me to go back a few years. In the 2000s one of the big stories was Glowball Worming/Climate Change. Climate Change is an area where almost anyone who is mathematically / scientifically / statistically / economically competent can look at the data and draw their own conclusions. Out of the hundreds of such people that I know, only a very small minority, once they have actually looked at the data and the papers, have gone on to believe that Climate Change is actually a serious problem. Most people look at the data and look at the hype and the amazing sets of shoddy statistics that take the raw data and massage it into “OMG we’re all gonna die!” and see that the whole thing is bogus. When the Climategate emails and computer code was leaked out from the UEA and we could see the emails between the “reputable scientists”, it became even more clear. There may have been a smidgen of underlying truth but the hype was based on terrible computer code, extreme secrecy about exactly how data was manipulated, and a scientific cabal knowing which side their bread was buttered and thus excluding just about anything that could counter the narrative.

Yet the MSM and the “deep state” bureaucracies – the EPA specifically in this case – showed (and continue to show) absolutely no curiosity about the quality of the underlying science or whether the science is settled or not and continue to push the narrative that the earth is dangerously heating. The fact that people joke about “getting 6 inches of global warming” or the “Gore effect” should be a hint that the propaganda has hit some resistance, but the response has been to smear the skeptics as “Deniers” and generally try and lump them in with Creationists, Anti-vaxxers and the like.

Meanwhile the Climate Change fanatics ignore inconvenient truths such as the “pause” or the fact that countries like Germany who led the “decarbonization” trend are now both increasing CO2 emissions and seeing massively higher energy costs while seeing less reliable electrical supply. It is of course a total coincidence that the strongest supporters of the orthodox climate “science” position seem to benefit from it – either they get paid to do the “science” or they get subsidized to make/install/run solar panels or wind turbines or they benefit in some other way such as being able to virtue signal and bansturbate. The climate scientists talk a lot about climate feedbacks, what there isn’t in Climate Science is a reliable way to successfully provide feedback on the science itself.

The response of the FBI to criticism appears to be about the same as that of Climate Science.

 

That sort of response is an issue for good Climate Science. It’s a far more serious when it’s the the government because is make them look (to quote the Onion above) like an Unaccountable Secret Agency. Comey’s tweet (and others from other current or former government agency employees) shows a contempt for the concept of oversight. The memo disclosed very little that was new (see the top of this post). What it did was confirm details that had already been leaked by various parties (including Mr Comey) and allow people like me to build a verifiable timeline. It is, IMHO, telling that the Derp State and their political allies in the media/Democratic party have been so keen to stop the release of the memo and to make outrageous claims about how it threatens the workings of government when, once you read it, you see how little it exposes. Particualrly when compared to – to pick examples not at random, the documents leaked by Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden or even the redacted versions of the classified documents Hillary Clinton and co had on her private email server.

Let it be noted that the memo that these people are so worked up about mentions merely that a FISA warrant was obtained (and renewed) based on a shoddy piece of opposition research and flim-flam connecting one Trump hanger on (Papadopoulos) with another (Page) despite there being no known or actual link between the two.

Recursive Custard

The history of nations who have ended up with an Unaccountable Secret Government Agency is not happy. The current Trump/Russia “scandal” appears to be an early symptom of such an agency so its a problem of immediate urgency. This is not exactly a new problem, indeed it’s a problem known since antiquity; Plato discussed it in the Republic and the well known phrase “Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?” (who will watch the watchmen?) originates in a work of Juvenal about 1900 years ago. The fact that it has been known since antiquity doesn’t mean it has been solved.

We have in fact seen, in Wisconsin, how bureaucrats can try to dispute the legislature, the executive and the activists who got them elected. Wisconsin has also showed the bureaucracy lose, though the loss has not resulted (yet) in sufficient sanctions on the guilty parties.

The US constitution makes the legislature the ultimate investigative body but while it allowed the President, as head of the executive branch, to appoint subordinates, it makes no mention to the concept of a permanent civil service as has developed over the last century and a half. The fact that former government officials see no problem in the idea of a bureaucratic agency defeating their elected overseers is very very bad.

There are ways to fix this. They require that the top of the executive (i.e. Trump and his appointed agency leaders) and the legislature (i.e both house of congress) instigate radical reform on the various bureaucracies. My preferred way is to take the hit in organizational competence and fire the top levels of most of the various agencies without respect for their loyalties or competence. Voltaire (satirically) wrote about the Royal Navy “Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres” (in this country, it is good to kill an admiral from time to time, in order to encourage the others). I think that RIFfing a few thousand GS-somethingLarges in Washington DC would send a decent message to the rest of the civil service. More direct measures such as using the DC lampposts for gibbets or crucifixion posts is probably overkill for a first strike, but might be kept in mind should the fired bureaucrats be caught meddling further or their successors not get the message.

Sadly this is probably not practical unless the Republicans retain the house, get a filibuster-proof majority in the senate and can reform the laws regarding the civil service (see below). However even without that, it does seem that some of Trump’s cabinet are managing to downsize their departments quite successfully so perhaps similar measures can be applied to the DoJ, the FBI and the various intelligence agencies. If AG Jeff Sessions is unable to do this then perhaps he needs to be replaced with someone who can.

Derp State vs Trump

It seems likely that the Derp state will realize that they are in trouble if Trump and the Republicans remain in power – if they haven’t already done so – and thus they may well start to be even more blatant in their support of the Democrats. This is probably going to backfire on them, particularly if the Trump economic boom continues, because very few of the Republican seats at risk are in places where the Democrats can assume that the white (and possibly the hispanic) working class will not vote for the party who is making them better off. If I’m right that the Derp State does start trying to support the Democrats even more blatantly and they lose, then widespread firing across the civil service is likely to be just the start. It won’t necessarily totally drain the swamp but it is likely to make it a lot less marshlike.

That’s probably all we need. As someone who lives on reclaimed marshland surrounded by very productive rice, wheat and vegetable fields, I’m well aware of how productive a drained marsh can be. With luck reforms to the Federal Civil Service can do the same there. If not the lampposts are still available.