Number Please


July 4, 2017

American citizens have concerns about privacy in their lives. President Trump seems to have the same concerns. On March 24, 2017, he tweeted that he was ‘wire tapped” by President Obama. We don’t know why the President made such an accusation but is it possible that this happened?  He was very specific in the wording of his tweet that it was a wiretap and it was authorized by President Obama. It is a politically spectacular charge. We know the former administrators of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI have flatly denied that any approved government wiretapping occurred. Can these two, opposing viewpoints be reconciled?

Wiretaps are a form of electronic surveillance. Legal wiretapping permits concealed recording and/or listening devices connected to a communication transmission line and eavesdropping thereafter for a limited amount of time.  Legal wiretaps must be pre-approved by the court system based on the establishment of probable cause that the tap will yield evidence related to a crime. In today’s unlimited electronic world, wiretaps are old-school technology. But they are regularly employed by law enforcement agencies.

Since it is relatively easy to determine if a court order has been issued for a wiretap on Trump’s phone, it seems reasonable to assume that former NSA head James Clapper and former FBI head James Comey are correct. There were no legal wiretaps eavesdropping on Donald Trump.

There are other possibilities. It is possible that there were illegal wiretaps on President Trump’s phones done by government employees. Taking Messrs. Clapper and Comey at face value, we can assume that none of their employees were involved in wiretapping President Trump.

But, is it possible that an illegal wiretap could have been made? I think everyone will agree that was possible. Is it possible that President Obama ordered someone to eavesdrop? It’s possible. The president has powerful connections. It could have been done by a government employee outside of the NSA or the FBI, or it could have been done by a contract employee of the government, or by someone totally unrelated to the government. In politics, there is a myriad of reasons to tap someone’s phone: intelligence, blackmail, or curiosity. Who knows? Donald Trump was and is President Obama’s political enemy. Again, there is no proof of any involvement by Obama in any illegal wiretapping activity. We only have Trump’s assertion. Why would he make such an accusation? Maybe President Trump needs to provide his Twitter followers some additional information. That would be useful.

There is one other explanation. William Binney worked for the NSA for over 30 years as a senior executive creating the agency’s mass surveillance program. He managed over 6,000 NSA employees. He’s now a whistleblower. A few days ago, in a New York radio interview, he said that “it is very likely, in fact, most probable that the NSA does have those tapes.” He was talking about phone conversations between Trump and James Comey. He also said he believes the NSA is bugging the Oval Office. He said the NSA is targeting the United States population.  In a previous interview, he revealed that “At least 80 percent of all audio calls, not just metadata, are recorded and stored in the US.”

But how would President Obama get access to Trump’s calls? According to the National Review’s June 1, 2017, article by Andrew C. McCarthy, Congressional committees have issued subpoenas demanding information related to unmasking requests of intelligence reports by Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security adviser, and Samantha Power, President Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations. This could have been the open window to permit Obama to snoop on Trump. Such unmasking could have been done legally or not.

Unmasking NSA information is not wiretapping, but in the world of snooping, who cares what it is called? The net violation of a person’s privacy is the same. It may be that President Trump is legally forbidden to reveal his sources. Thankfully Congressional investigators are probing this situation.

But the takeaway from all of this is that Trump is not making a crazy allegation, and secondly, we should all be very careful what we say or do. Our United States government most likely is recording every phone conversation and computer keystroke we make. Just like the idea of ‘wiretapping,’ the concept of ‘citizen privacy’ is a quaint idea and is apparently no longer possible.


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