Government & Politics

Narrative-Shaping Obscures Obama Administration's Abuse of Power

Leftmedia outlets told the story of NSA and FBI surveillance of Americans, but without saying anything about Obama's role.

Arnold Ahlert · Jun. 1, 2017

More than ever before, Americans are aware of media efforts to “shape the narrative” — which in most cases means filtering the truth through a progressive lens.

On April 28, the New York Times published a story about abuses by the National Security Agency, noting it had “halted one of the most disputed practices of its warrantless surveillance program, ending a once-secret form of wiretapping that dates to the Bush administration’s post-Sept. 11 expansion of national security powers.”

On May 24, Circa published the same information — with a decidedly different take. “The National Security Agency under former President Barack Obama routinely violated American privacy protections while scouring through overseas intercepts and failed to disclose the extent of the problems until the final days before Donald Trump was elected president last fall, according to once top-secret documents that chronicle some of the most serious constitutional abuses to date by the U.S. intelligence community,” it stated.

The Times story did not mention the Obama administration at all. It focused instead on the Bush administration’s creation of Stellarwind and its evolution from a program the Times characterized as one “based on a raw assertion of executive power to one rooted in congressional authorization and subject to the intelligence court’s review” — essentially implying that until the program was changed, the Bush administration was abusing power.

The Times did a follow-up story on May 11. Again, no mention of the Obama administration, noting only that the FISA Court “was delaying its annual reauthorization because the N.S.A. had discovered widespread violations of a rule for how analysts could handle Americans’ emails collected under the program.”

The Times explains the Trump administration was working to stop the abuse, but again, the Times implies Americans may have to settle for less security in exchange for constitutional protections.

Once again, Circa put the abuse of power issue in an entirely different perspective. “More than 5 percent, or one out of every 20 searches seeking upstream Internet data on Americans inside the NSA’s so-called Section 702 database violated the safeguards Obama and his intelligence chiefs vowed to follow in 2011,” it explains.

Circa also explains that when Obama administration officials revealed the abuses at an Oct. 26, 2016 closed-door hearing before the FISA Court, the Court censured administration officials and noted that their refusal to disclose the extent of their violations constituted an “institutional lack of candor” resulting in a “very serious Fourth Amendment issue.”

Moreover, the promise breached by Obama precipitated a “three-fold increase in NSA data searches about Americans and a rise in the unmasking of U.S. person’s identities in intelligence reports.” And assertions by administration lackeys like Susan Rice, who insisted her efforts to unmask Americans were “legal,” were undercut by both the Court and the NSA’s internal watchdog who noted NSA analysts had been conducting such queries in violation of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 “with much greater frequency than had been previously disclosed to the Court.”

The second Times story did note the FISA Court had previously rebuked the NSA for its abuses in 2011. Yet incredibly, the Justice Department told presiding Judge John D. Bates the NSA “discovered” a program aimed exclusively at foreigners “had also been gathering domestic messages for three years.”

An agency whose sole job is to discover threats to national security was incapable of discovering its own violations of the law?

Section 702 of the Act prohibits intentionally targeting Americans. The giant hole in the law? In the process of targeting foreigners with these warrantless searches, the NSA “incidentally” or “inadvertently” captures vast numbers of Americans’ communications with those foreigners. And in 2011 — the same year the Obama administration promised to follow safeguards — the FISA Court granted the NSA “a new set of minimization procedures under which the government may use U.S. person identifiers” that were previously prohibited, Boston Review reported in 2013.

The Review makes it clear reverse targeting, as in “the targeting of a U.S. person under the guise or pretext of targeting a foreigner,” is prohibited. Thus, Americans are supposed to believe the avalanche of leaks about Trump and his associates — courtesy of “current and former administration officials” willing to commit felonies to do so — arise strictly from incidental or inadvertent intel collection.

In a Washington Post piece rightfully excoriating Fox News reporter James Rosen and several other conservative sites for both insisting Circa broke the story and that the Times and Post (which also covered it without mentioning the Obama administration) had blacked it out, the focus was once again shifted away from Obama administration abuses. Yet the Post was forced to note Circa’s piece “was part of a trio of stories that also included a look at the CIA’s approach to unmasking and the FBI’s sharing of data with third parties.”

Those two stories are just as huge as the NSA piece. In one, Circa reveals Obama administration CIA Director John Brennan had “unmasked the identities of Americans” and that there is “growing evidence the agency he oversaw has become one of the largest consumers of unmasked intelligence about Americans even though its charter prohibits it from spying on U.S. citizens.”

In the other, it revealed the FBI “illegally shared raw intelligence about Americans with unauthorized third parties and violated other constitutional privacy protections,” citing declassified government documents “that undercut the bureau’s public assurances about how carefully it handles warrantless spy data to avoid abuses or leaks.”

Circa also reminds us former FBI Director James Comey “unequivocally told lawmakers his agency used sensitive espionage data gathered about Americans without a warrant only when it was ‘lawfully collected, carefully overseen and checked,’” before revealing that assertion is completely undermined by a declassified FISA Court ruling “listing hundreds of violations of the FBI’s privacy-protecting minimization rules that occurred on Comey’s watch.”

Worse, the FISA Court was concerned the FBI is still engaged in similar abuses it has not yet reported.

In addition, a timeline compiled by investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson amplifies the gross abuses of power perpetrated by the Obama administration beginning in April 2009. They include the IRS targeting of conservative PACs, the orchestrated disinformation campaigns associated with the Fast and Furious and Benghazi scandals, administration spying on AP reporters, the CIA’s improper access of Senate Intelligence Committee computers, and the collection of private communications by members of Congress — while spying on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Attkisson also reminds us that on January 12, 2017, the Obama administration finalized new rules “allowing the NSA to spread certain intelligence to 16 other U.S. intel agencies without the normal privacy protections” and that on May 4, 2017, it was revealed the administration “vastly expanded its searches of the NSA database for Americans” — during an election year.

Those are egregious abuses of power by the Obama administration, and the attempt by leftist outlets like the Times and the Post to downplay that reality is hardly accidental. Yet these revelations could represent one of the greatest assaults on our constitutional protections in American history — courtesy of an administration whose stated goal was to “fundamentally transform the United States of America.”

And all the narrative-shaping in the world cannot obscure it.

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