One of the strangest contradictory sensations of the Trump era is the man's relationship towards and with the various U.S. intelligence agencies. In many cases, Trump's broad criticisms about the unaccountable and seemingly limitless scope of intelligence gathering are valid. Or would be, anyway, if the man actually cared about those issues for any reason beyond his larger tantrum over the way those agencies have undermined his ego. Or if he wasn't simultaneously trying to use that same wide jurisdiction to target his own political enemies.
In other words, Trump's not necessarily wrong about the potential abuses of secret and/or warrantless surveillance (or "wiretapping" as he puts it). But he's only mad about those things because they can be used to threaten him and his friends, instead of reinforcing his hunches. Otherwise, illegal spying and invasions of privacy are totally fine with him—as long as they target the right people.
There are moments, then, where it becomes a case of "My enemy's enemy is my friend" — except that "friend" is also an enemy of sorts, which further complicates the whole mess. Case in point: this recent Just Security post by Douglas London, a former CIA operative. In it, London talks about the way that the CIA's priorities have been forced to shift from general intelligence gathering to just kind of soothing Trump's ego, and retroactively justifying all of the man's random baseless instincts:
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The revealing and most disconcerting aspect of this episode was not that Pompeo presumed the worst from his workforce before getting the full story, nor his vicious dressing down of a dedicated senior official and decorated officer.
The time is always right to do what is right, that's true. But the timing of this is a pretty ugly retcon—especially after a new trove of FBI files on Martin Luther King, Jr. were just released six months ago, painting an ugly picture of frequent sexual misconduct. Read the rest
The FBI isn't in the mood to discuss why it installed hidden microphones and cameras in and around Alameda County’s Rene C. Davidson Courthouse. It had been conducting secret surveillance for 10 months, even though they didn't have a court order.
From the East Bay Express:
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At the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland, the FBI planted hidden microphones inside light fixtures on the courthouse’s exterior steps to capture the conversations of people attending the foreclosure auctions. Cameras and microphones were installed in parked Alameda County vehicles next to the courthouse. The FBI even hid a microphone in the AC Transit bus stop on Fallon Street, and dropped a bugged backpack next to a statue inside the courthouse, according to a letter sent by US Justice Department attorney Kate Patchen to Marr's attorneys on March 15. The surveillance was ongoing from March 2010 to January 2011.
[D]efense attorneys in the San Mateo case said they believe the federal agents committed felonies when they planted the bugs.
Facing this challenge, government prosecutors in San Mateo have moved to withdraw the recordings as evidence at trial, but the defense has called this move an attempt by the FBI to "cut its losses and sweep its criminal conduct under the rug."
Courthouse News Service has an extensive explainer on the state of a legal battle between The National Security Agency and a group of non-terrorist AT&T customers who claim that warrantless wiretapping violates their rights. The short version: NSA argues it is immune from their federal lawsuit because REASONS. Read the rest