More fake president

Donald Trump continues with his campaign spy accusations (with no evidence, prior to an investigation) and his ‘deep state’ conspiracy claims.

Fox News – ‘SPYGATE’: Trump blasts ‘Criminal Deep State’ amid reports of FBI informant spying on campaign

The president’s tweets come after reports that an FBI informant communicated with at least three members of his campaign—Foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, Trump aide Carter Page and campaign adviser Sam Clovis.

Trump then went on to quote former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who discussed the issue of an FBI informant Tuesday during ABC’s “The View.”

“’Trump should be happy that the FBI was SPYING on his campaign’ No, James Clapper, I am not happy. Spying on a campaign would be illegal, and a scandal to boot!” Trump tweeted.

The Justice Department instructed its inspector general to investigate any alleged “impropriety or political motivation” in the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference and potential collusion with Trump campaign associates during the 2016 presidential election, following demands from Trump.

It should be investigated, but it is highly improper for Trump to be making unsubstantiated assertions before that is done.

CNN: James Clapper did NOT say what Donald Trump keeps saying he said

On Tuesday, James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, went on “The View” — weird, right? — to talk about President Donald Trump and the intelligence community.

During that interview, this exchange happened between Clapper and co-host Joy Behar:
BEHAR: “So I ask you, was the FBI spying on Trump’s campaign?”
CLAPPER: “No, they were not. They were spying on, a term I don’t particularly like, but on what the Russians were doing. Trying to understand were the Russians infiltrating, trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage or influence which is what they do.”
BEHAR: “Well, why doesn’t [Trump] like that? He should be happy.”
CLAPPER: “He should be.”

Seems pretty straightforward, right? Clapper makes crystal clear that the FBI was not spying on the Trump campaign. And he also makes clear that while he doesn’t like the word “spying” — because we are talking about the use of a confidential source — that, to the extent there was any information gathering happening in conversations between the FBI’s informant and members of the Trump campaign, it was entirely designed to shed light on Russian meddling efforts related to the 2016 election.

In the hands of Trump, however, Clapper’s words have become anything but straightforward.

Early Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted this about the Clapper interview:

“‘Trump should be happy that the FBI was SPYING on his campaign’ No, James Clapper, I am not happy. Spying on a campaign would be illegal, and a scandal to boot!”

Then, answering reporters’ question on Wednesday afternoon, Trump said this:

“I mean if you look at Clapper … he sort of admitted that they had spies in the campaign yesterday inadvertently. I hope it’s not true, but it looks like it is.”

NO. HE. DIDN’T.

Clapper did the exact opposite of what Trump is saying he did.

But this is classic Trump, making things up and making the story about himself. It will play well to his base, but shouldn’t affect legal processes and investigations.

Trump ‘campaign spy’ claim refuted

As has become normal, Donald Trump made a big claim via Twitter on Friday based on what appear to be nothing more than vague rumours.

And as usual, this seems to have been somewhat embellished.

NY Times: F.B.I. Used Informant to Investigate Russia Ties to Campaign, Not to Spy, as Trump Claims

President Trump accused the F.B.I. on Friday, without evidence, of sending a spy to secretly infiltrate his 2016 campaign “for political purposes” even before the bureau had any inkling of the “phony Russia hoax.”

In fact, F.B.I. agents sent an informant to talk to two campaign advisers only after they received evidence that the pair had suspicious contacts linked to Russia during the campaign. The informant, an American academic who teaches in Britain, made contact late that summer with one campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, according to people familiar with the matter. He also met repeatedly in the ensuing months with the other aide, Carter Page, who was also under F.B.I. scrutiny for his ties to Russia.

No evidence has emerged that the informant acted improperly when the F.B.I. asked for help in gathering information on the former campaign advisers, or that agents veered from the F.B.I.’s investigative guidelines and began a politically motivated inquiry, which would be illegal.

Trump has never been bothered much about evidence when making accusations and claims, but he is demanding an investigation

Fox News: Trump to ‘demand’ Justice probe whether feds spied on campaign for political purposes

Promoting a theory that is circulating, Trump quoted Fox Business anchor David Asman and tweeted Friday: “Apparently the DOJ put a Spy in the Trump Campaign. This has never been done before and by any means necessary, they are out to frame Donald Trump for crimes he didn’t commit.”

But Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani cast some doubt on that.

On whether there was an “informant” in the 2016 presidential campaign, Giuliani told CNN, “I don’t know for sure, nor does the president, if there really was one,” though he said they have long been told there was “some kind of infiltration.”

Perhaps another investigation would clarify the extent of the FBI attention given the trump campaign, but it would also add another ring to the Trump circus.

The spy who wrote the Trump-Russia memos

Mother Jones has a story by David Corn on The Spy Who Wrote the Trump-Russia Memos: It Was “Hair-Raising” Stuff

Last fall, a week before the election, I broke the story that a former Western counterintelligence official had sent memos to the FBI with troubling allegations related to Donald Trump.

The memos noted that this spy’s sources had provided him with information indicating that Russian intelligence had mounted a yearslong operation to co-opt or cultivate Trump and had gathered secret compromising material on Trump. They also alleged that Trump and his inner circle had accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin.

These memos caused a media and political firestorm this week when CNN reported that President Barack Obama and Trump had been told about their existence, as part of briefings on the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia hacked political targets during the 2016 campaign to help Trump become president.

For my story in October, I spoke with the former spy who wrote these memos, under the condition that I not name him or reveal his nationality or the spy service where he had worked for nearly two decades, mostly on Russian matters.

However the spy has been named and revealed.

  • Christopher Steele named as ex-MI6 agent behind ‘fake’ Trump sex dossier
  • He was a president of the Cambridge Union and ‘confirmed socialist’ as student 
  • Father-of-three was monitored by KGB in 1990s and his late wife also targeted
  • Steele is now an intelligence consultant who worked with FBI to bring down FIFA
  • His 35-page salacious file featured claims about Mr Trump’s links with Russia
  • Ex-spy has now fled his Surrey home ‘fearing for his life’ and may be abroad

From Daily Mail: Kremlin blames UK for Trump ‘sex storm’ as top Tory says relations with Russia are ‘about as bad as it could get’ without us being at WAR

Russia’s relations with Britain went into the deep freeze last night as Moscow blamed MI6 for the dossier of sordid claims about Donald Trump.

In an alarming Twitter post, the Russian embassy in London suggested the dossier’s alleged author, former British spy Christopher Steele, was still working for MI6 and ‘briefing both ways’ against Mr Trump and Moscow.

Mr Steele, who spied in Moscow in the 1990s, was last night in hiding after vanishing shortly before the damning dossier made headlines around the world. Neighbours said he had asked them to look after his three cats, and there were claims last night he was in an MI6 safe house.

So this is complex and has become a major story involving not just the US versus Russia, but the UK is also heavily involved. It’s likely to get messier.

Meanwhile the person at the centre of it all:

We are probably watching a train wreck unfold.

Public bigger spy threat than GCSB

A lot has been said about the risks to the New Zealand public from spying by Government agencies the SIS and the GCSB, with scant evidence of there being any actual risk to most people.

In her latest Herald column Kerry McIvor makes an interesting point, suggesting that  public ‘spies’ are a bigger risk than the GCSB – Forget GCSB, public are the spies.

She refers to the surveillance, photographing and audio recording of Aaron Smith’s toilet liaison by a couple of of ordinary people (we are led to believe, unless the SIS has a Public Morals division that we don’t know about).

Which reinforces my opinion that it’s not the Government and the GCSB we have to worry about spying on us.

Its our fellow citizens and their smartphones. Nobody is safe, as Smith discovered.

I can only imagine the incredulity from the All Blacks team management when they heard of the incident: “He’s done what?!” “He did it where?!” “They recorded it?!”

How Smith thought he could get away with a liaison in a public toilet, at an airport – while people were queued outside the door, for heaven’s sake – is beyond me. That level of idiocy is mind-boggling.

But the woman in the loo wasn’t coerced. She was a willing participant.

That’s an assumption only that’s been made. We have very little evidence provided to us (fortunately).

What we have is the court of public opinion, or rather the court of media sensationalising, driven by scant evidence given to media by a couple of public spies.

This has been just about as bad as the office sex recording in Christchurch where a couple weren’t as private as they thought but a public spy recorded them and then they were harassed to an extreme level by media.

How many innocent people have had their lives trashed by the SIS or the GCSB?

Perhaps it’s not ‘big brother’ we should be worrying about (ok, we should still worry about that a bit) but rather ‘member of public with recording device’ plus ‘media intent on sensation and clicks’ may be our biggest risk.

How long will it be until a member of the public uses a drone to record something that is then used to trash a few people’s lives?

But the biggest spy risk is probably smart phones with dumb users and dumber media.

Yahoo spied on emails

Note that until very recently Xtra emails went via Yahoo.

Reuters: Exclusive: Yahoo secretly scanned customer emails for U.S. intelligence – sources

Yahoo Inc last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company complied with a classified U.S. government directive, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said two former employees and a third person apprised of the events.

Some surveillance experts said this represents the first case to surface of a U.S. Internet company agreeing to a spy agency’s demand by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time.

It is not known what information intelligence officials were looking for, only that they wanted Yahoo to search for a set of characters. That could mean a phrase in an email or an attachment, said the sources, who did not want to be identified.

This raises some important issues, like who else does this spying for spy agencies.

Experts said it was likely that the NSA or FBI had approached other Internet companies with the same demand, since they evidently did not know what email accounts were being used by the target. The NSA usually makes requests for domestic surveillance through the FBI, so it is hard to know which agency is seeking the information.

Reuters was unable to confirm whether the 2015 demand went to other companies, or if any complied.

Alphabet Inc’s Google and Microsoft Corp, two major U.S. email service providers, did not respond to requests for comment.

That’s also a concern, for US email users anyway. What about New Zealand email users?

But we all knew that our emails were at risk of being snooped on, didn’t we.

 

Why Bomber’s claims are totally meaningless

In his latest rant against our intelligence agencies Martyn Bradbury has bombed with a mass of misfires.

The headline: Why the ‘protections’ in new spy bill are totally meaningless

There is no new spy bill. And Independent Review has just released a report that makes observations and recommendations.

Let’s get this straight – our intelligence agencies have been caught illegally spying on NZers, were caught helping the PMs Office smear the leader of the Opposition months before the 2011 election with falsified lies, were caught being racist, were caught spying on our trade partners to try and get John Key’s mate a job, were caught out by Edward Snowden telling the NSA that legislation had loopholes to allow mass surveillance, were caught out by Edward Snowden planning to tap the Southern Cross internet cable and were caught possibly aiding the CIA rendition torture program.

Most of those claims are questionable. Some of those issues are still under inquiry so it isn’t know whether anyone has been caught doing what Bradbury asserts.

So how does Key respond to intelligence agencies drunk on their own power?

Bradbury is drunk on hyperbole. The intelligence agencies are being reported on, not requesting changes.

Why he is suggesting even more power.

No he isn’t. He is suggesting a multi-party approach to assessing the recommendations of the independent review and deciding what might be done.

Why the hell would we give the GCSB and SIS more power when they can’t manage the power they currently have?

The report says “It was clear to us from our discussions with GCSB staff and from the GCSB’s own internal policy documents that these restrictions are interpreted and applied conservatively.” Is Bradbury wanting them to apply policies more aggressively?

The reality is that the so called 3 tier system of protections being suggested by the new legislation are utterly meaningless. The loophole built into the suggested legislation allows the spies to disregard all 3 of those tiers IF they believe there is an emergency or risk to life,  they then get 48 hours of warrantless surveillance.

This allows fishing expeditions for the spies.

Again, there is no new legislation. It should not allow fishing expeditions.

We must demand more protections for ourselves from this ever growing ultra secret deep state. A modern day stasi that answers to the NSA doesn’t make our democracy safer, it makes it far more dangerous.

Demanding more protections for ourselves is fine, but protecting ourselves from others requires some secret surveillance powers.

Likening New Zealand to a “modern day stasi ” is just pathetic.

Bradbury has bombed this with his hyperbole – “an extreme exaggeration used to make a point”. The problem is this sort of hyperbole doesn’t make any point other than the lack of credibility of the ranter.

Spy overhaul needs cross party support

Security versus privacy and protection from spying is a difficult balancing act for the Government, with more transparency and oversight being very important without compromising the ability of our spy agencies to do their jobs effectively.

A report on the future of New Zealand’s spy agencies is due this week, and the results of several spy inquiries are due soon too.

This poses a test of John Key’s ability to bring together other parties into working on and agreeing on a way forward for our spy agencies. It it also a test of Andrew Little’s willingness to deal with this in a non-partisan way, given that the major parties have historically mostly put politics aside when it comes to security and intelligence.

Tracey Watkins writes Spy agency overhaul needs political buy-in to restore public confidence.

When John Key and Andrew Little eyeball each other across the table during a closed door session of Parliament’s intelligence and security committee this week, the prime minister will be ready to turn the tables on his opponents.

Key is asking Labour to back him on legislation overhauling the country’s spy agencies, the Government Communications Security Bureau and Security Intelligence Service.

The only tables being turned should be on dysfunction between National and Labour in particular on security issues.

The rise of the brutal Islamic State, and the emergence of its “lone wolf” disciples so close to home  – think Sydney’s Martin Place Cafe seige – have caused a further shift in the weight of the debate around individual privacy versus national security.

In that environment, this week’s report to Parliament’s intelligence and security committee takes on even greater significance.

The report, prepared by former Labour deputy Sir Michael Cullen and lawyer Dame Patsy Reddy, will likely recommend closer cooperation between the spy agencies. Greater transparency and oversight also seems to be on the cards after Sir Michael publicly criticised the overly secretive ways of those spy agencies and a culture of keeping things secret for secrecy’s sake.

Both moves are long overdue.

And both national and Labour need to deal with this responsibly.

Any move toward granting more intrusive powers to either spy agency will be fiercely opposed by the Labour’s activist base.

But Little’s job will be trading off those concerns against those of middle New Zealand, where he has to grow Labour’s votes.

He also has to put a priority on his responsibility to the country as a whole, regardless of some activists and voters.

The pending release of three serious inquiries may further strain the Labour leader’s ability to back any new powers, given that they go to the heart of confidence in our spy agencies.

The first of those inquiries, by the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, Cheryl Gwyn, is the most serious, looking at whether the intelligence agencies spied on other governments to boost the prospects of former Trade Minister Tim Groser against his rivals for the top World Trade Organisation job.

The other two inquiries, into whether the GCSB picked up the private communications of New Zealanders in the South Pacific, and its links to America’s CIA, may be less controversial.

Regardless of the outcomes of these inquiries they are likely to stir up opposition to spying.

But given the current state of unease and fear worldwide at the rise of terrorism, any further loss of public confidence in our spy agencies would be serious and significant.

Which is why both John Key and Andrew Little might want to see eye to eye on this one rather than go into another election campaign squabbling about spies.

It’s critical that Key and Little put politics aside and together workout what is best for the country as a whole, and for the rights of us, the citizens.

Any overhaul of our spy agencies and protection of our right to privacy needs to be as non-political as possible. At least National and Labour need to be more or less on the same page.

Fisher on the GCSB and SIS

David Fisher has a lengthy ‘opinion’ on New Zealand’s spy agencies at NZ Herald: David Fisher: Just how bad were our spies? It’s one of his better articles.

Despite the headline looking at a troubled past Fisher also has some optimism for a better future.

John Key has opened up the spy agencies to public scrutiny in a way which we have never seen in New Zealand.

We know more now about what they do and even how they do it.

We know how the two agencies are managed, in that the GCSB and NZSIS both have top-flight lawyers in charge.

In terms of oversight and public disclosure, we are heading into an era unparalleled in our history. Citizens now have more ability to see and have explained the tasks done in their name. Again, it might not be enough but it is considerably more than we have had before.

That’s where we have come to, three years after Mr Key had to admit Kim Dotcom and one of his co-accused had been illegally spied on by the GCSB.

It’s an interesting, reasonable and balanced analysis.

Fisher concludes:

This is the question which needs to be answered – what should the agencies be doing? If their job is “keeping New Zealand society secure, independent, and free and democratic” how can it best achieve that? Among other things, it was confusion about the GCSB’s reason for being which led it into forbidden territory.

If we’re all clear about the path on which the intelligence community is heading, surely there’s far less chance of those agencies accidentally straying into the wilderness.

There seem to have been significant changes for the better in New Zealand’s spying world.

The spy is falling, the spy is falling!

Does the New Zealand public (and media) have Hager fatigue or apathy over spy stories?

Nicky Hager has been promoting his reports on New Zealand content of the Snowden files, first through NZ Herald on Thursday and yesterday through Sunday Star Times.

Wider media interest seemed to quickly fade, and apart from some devout activists and the Greens there has been largely a resounding “so what?”

Is this because most people simply don’t care about spying, are not surprised that it’s happening but don’t think it applies to them or will affect them?

Or is it Hager fatigue? Perhaps apart from some loyal supporters he is seen too much as a pesky lefty stirrer.

It will be a mix of both apathy and Hager fatigue.

Yesterday the Sunday Star Times featured reports from Nicky Hager et al based on the Snowden files.  See Sunday Star Times – next installments of Hager/Snowden.

This follows NZ Herald on Thursday launching – Spy ‘revelations’ a flood or a trickle? – in what is promised to be a series of reports on New Zealand aspects of the Snowden files that Hager has been given access to.

There was some wider media coverage on Thursday, but little apparent public interest.

Yesterday the Sunday Star Times coverage appears to have been largely ignored by other media. And the public seems to have been mostly disinterested as well. One of the articles appeared at the bottom of Stuff’s “Most Popular” in the middle of yesterday but by evening there was no sign of anything about spying.

This morning Google news doesn’t include any past spy stories on it’s New Zealand news summary page but there is one Stuff ‘Reader Report’ – Spying news ‘should come as no surprise’.

Stuff leads this page with:

REVELATIONS: Edward Snowden’s latest batch of revelations showed New Zealand was spying on its Pacific neighbours.

New documents show New Zealand has spied on its neighbours and allies, including countries in the Pacific. What do you think about these latest spying revelations?

But the only response published is an emphatic “so what?”

The recent revelations by the investigative journalist Nicky Hager that the New Zealand Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) has spied on individuals or organisations located in our neighbouring countries and even allies should come as no surprise to anyone.

Our spy agency is there to spy and gather information from those who are seeking to hide something. The idea that terrorists or criminals can avoid detection by basing themselves in a friendly country is ludicrous.

The world is shrinking daily and decisions made in one continent can be acted on almost instantly in another. Information gathered anywhere can have relevance anywhere.

We need to think globally if we are to combat global terrorists and gather intelligence globally too.

As an ordinary, law-abiding citizen I hope that is what my tax-funded GCSB does. I have nothing to hide or fear and to be brutally honest I don’t care a jot where the spies get the information from or who they share it with.

So it seems that when it comes to real life spy stories New Zealand yawns.

To be honest yesterday I posted links to the Sunday Star Times stories but apart from a cursory glance at the lead paragraphs I couldn’t be bothered reading them.

Has Hager cried and cried wolf too often? He may be guilty of over-egging revelations – be it on dirty self interested politics or spying – that lack compelling evidence.

The problem with ‘The spy is falling, the spy is calling!’ approach is that something that’s barely of interest in the first place gets easily ignored.

A few of the most important and concerning aspects of our spying should probably warrant public scrutiny, or awareness at least.

But this is shrouded in a fog of scaremongering.

Spying on us

Spying on us