CIA Illegally Spied on Trump Team as early as 2015

United States Intelligence Community Illegally targeted 26 Trump advisors for foreign spy agencies to “reverse target” and “bump”


by MICHAEL SHELLENBERGER - MATT TAIBBI AND ALEX GUTENTAG, February 13, 2024

Last year, John Durham, a special prosecutor for the Department of Justice (DOJ), concluded that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) should never have opened its investigation of alleged collusion by then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and Russia in late July of 2016.

Now, multiple credible sources tell Public and Racket that the United States Intelligence Community (IC), including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), illegally mobilized foreign intelligence agencies to target Trump advisors long before the summer of 2016.

The new information fills many gaps in our understanding of the Russia collusion hoax and is supported by testimony already in the public record.

Until now, the official story has been that the FBI’s investigation began after Australian intelligence officials told US officials that a Trump aide had boasted to an Australian diplomat that Russia had damning material about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

In truth, the US IC asked the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance to surveil Trump’s associates and share the intelligence they acquired with US agencies, say sources close to a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HSPCI) investigation. The Five Eyes nations are the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

After Public and Racket had been told that President Barack Obama’s CIA Director, John Brennan, had identified 26 Trump associates for the Five Eyes to target, a source confirmed that the IC had “identified [them] as people to ‘bump,’ or make contact with or manipulate. They were targets of our own IC and law enforcement — targets for collection and misinformation.”

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Unknown details about the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign and raw intelligence related to the IC’s surveillance of the Trump campaign are in a 10-inch binder that Trump ordered to be declassified at the very end of his term, sources told Public and Racket.

If the top-secret documents exist proving these charges, they are potentially proof that multiple US intelligence officials broke laws against spying and election interference.

CNN, Politico, The Guardian, and others reported in 2017 that the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the UK’s equivalent of the National Security Agency (NSA), was the “principal whistleblower” in the investigation into the alleged ties between Trump and the Russian government.

“GCHQ first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious ‘interactions’ between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents, a source close to UK intelligence” wrote a team of reporters for The Guardian in April 2017.

This intelligence sharing was supposedly just the result of “incidental collection.” Reported The Guardian, “It is understood that GCHQ was at no point carrying out a targeted operation against Trump or his team or proactively seeking information. The alleged conversations were picked up by chance as part of routine surveillance of Russian intelligence assets.”

But now, sources say the GCHQ’s version of events is false. Instead, the US IC asked its foreign allies to target 26 members of Trump’s team, possibly to justify the FBI’s investigation.

“They were making contacts and bumping Trump people going back to March 2016,” a source close to the investigation said. “They were sending people around the UK, Australia, Italy — the Mossad in Italy. The MI6 was working at an intelligence school they had set up.”

The IC, a source said, considered the 26 Trump campaign people identified to “bump” or “reverse target,” or manipulate through confidential human sources (CHSs), to be easy marks because of their relative inexperience.

Doing so was illegal, both because US law prohibits such intelligence gathering unless authorized by a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant and because the weaponization of the IC for political purposes constitutes election interference.

Brennan, former President Barack Obama, under whom he served, and the CIA did not respond to requests by Public and Racket for comment. The Justice Department also declined to comment. But, the FBI and GCHQ did respond.

“The allegations that GCHQ was asked to conduct ‘wire tapping’ against the then president-elect are nonsense,” said a GCHQ spokesperson. “They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”

However, in our email presenting the claims to GCHQ, we did not refer to "wiretapping" but rather to its UK spy agency’s broader alleged involvement in the scheme.

Said the FBI, “The conduct in 2016 and 2017 that [Justice Department] Special Counsel [John] Durham examined was the reason that current FBI leadership already implemented dozens of corrective actions, which have now been in place for some time. Had those reforms been in place in 2016, the missteps identified in the report could have been prevented.”

But the new information provided by our sources should significantly alter the public’s understanding of how the US IC, including the FBI and CIA, began their illegal investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia.

The Conspiracy And The Cover-Up

Previously released evidence supports the claim that the US IC began investigating Trump before the FBI began its “Crossfire Hurricane” hurricane investigation into alleged Trump campaign collusion with Russia. 

The FBI has already admitted that it should not have sought FISA warrants to wiretap Carter Page, a Trump foreign policy advisor. FBI had included in its FISA warrant application for Page noncredible intelligence from a confidential human source (CHS) named Christopher Steele, a former British spy. 

A source told Public and Racket that IC officials had targeted Page because they viewed him as inexperienced. “You look at some of the people who were there,” the person said. “They weren’t sophisticated or experienced at disinformation or at [dealing with] IC people planting ideas or befriending you.”

In 2018, HPSCI released a 243-page clearing Trump of allegations that he and his team colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. House Republicans had made a deal with the CIA to place their documents inside a safe within the CIA’s vault.

Sources close to the investigation say that from 2019 to 2020, HSPCI investigators continued working out of a “small room in Langley” and had access to raw logs and communications from agencies like the CIA and the National Security Council (NSC).

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The first of the IC’s surveillance targets appeared to be former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) head and would-be Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. 

Cambridge academic Stefan Halper, one of the few outed “confidential human sources” from the Crossfire Hurricane probe, approached Flynn in March 2016.

“The Stefan Halper story is ridiculous,” a source said. “He was the consultant to write papers that really weren’t papers and paid inflated sums like $400,000… He was conducting bumps and intel contacts.”

Halper approached at least four Trump targets in total and was paid $411,575 by the US government in 2016 via the Office of Net Assessment, a Pentagon office that exists “to pay off spies,” as one source put it.

When asked by Public and Racket if he thought the IC’s surveillance efforts started with him, Flynn said, “It actually did. The crazy thing is I had just gone through a full security clearance update investigation, which had just closed about six months prior. It included a polygraph examination. They knew there was nothing, absolutely nothing.”

A Maltese professor named Josef Mifsud approached or “bumped” another Trump aide named Geroge Papadopoulos. 

“Bumping has all kinds of techniques,” Flynn told us. “The purpose is to get compromising material on them in order to then do something with them, use them in some capacity,” or “just to achieve a political end.”

House Democrats on the Intelligence Committee called Mifsud “Kremlin-linked” and a Russian “cutout.” But a source told Public and Racket that Mifsud was “a professor who really worked for MI6.”

MI6 did not respond to requests by Public and Racket for comment.

In his 2019 book, Papadopoulos described what had happened to him as “a British-Australian operation” and “not a Russian operation.”

When asked if the investigation was motivated by desires to influence US foreign policy toward Russia, a source said, “It had nothing to do with our relationship with Russia. It was just leveraging capabilities to undermine an unprepared Trump campaign.”

One of the main motivations of the various individuals involved in the Russia collusion hoax appears to have been to create a cloud of suspicion over Trump.

For example, evidence suggests that the head of security for the Senate Intelligence Committee, James Wolfe, leaked information about the existence of the FISA warrant, which claimed Page was an “agent of a foreign power,” to the Washington Post, in 2017. It was a crucial episode in creating the false perception that the Trump campaign had conspired with the Russian government.

Told about the HPSCI report, Papadopoulos told Public and Racket, “There are so many unanswered questions that the investigations kept covered up…I do believe that the operation will be declassified, should Trump get re-elected, which is why his second term represents an existential threat to the intelligence agencies.”

In response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the FBI released some of the Crossfire Hurricane intelligence in heavily redacted form.

But documents released by journalist John Solomon in his lawsuit against the DOJ, Solomon v. Garland, show that the FBI’s versions do not match Trump’s unreleased declassified documents. Those documents include the FBI’s notes on its investigation into Page and interview with Steele.

HPSCI investigators tried to get their report declassified before Trump left office, but the CIA “would not cooperate” and “rebuffed” them “at every turn,” a source said.

The investigators had “created a binder that blew up the assessment but couldn’t get it out because the CIA controlled it,” said a source. The investigation had to be done “at their spaces,” and the CIA “monitored” investigators. The CIA always had a “minder” present while they worked on the report.
 

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