Here’s how Obama made it possible for sensitive information about Team Trump to be leaked

In the wake of Donald J. Trump’s stunning presidential win over Hillary Clinton, a surge of leaked intelligence made its way to the Washington establishment media, leaving many current and former intelligence officials dumbfounded as to how such information – much of it very obviously from electronic surveillance – could have been obtained in the first place.

A report this week by Circa News likely provides an answer: On their way out the door, aides to former President Barack Obama examined National Security Agency incidental intercepts of Americans who were traveling abroad, fully exploiting rule changes Obama made in 2011 under the guise of fighting terrorism, foreign espionage and hacking.

The rule changes meant that top aides like National Security Advisor Susan Rice and top intelligence and Justice Department officials like former CIA Director John Brennan and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, among others, were granted access to raw intelligence intercepts involving surveillance on foreign figures who often were monitored talking to American citizens. (RELATED: House Intel chair to call Comey, Rogers in for ‘closed session’ following discovery of ‘concerning info’ in intelligence reports)

Circa News noted further:

Dozens of times in 2016, those intelligence reports identified Americans who were directly intercepted talking to foreign sources or were the subject of conversations between two or more monitored foreign figures. Sometimes the Americans’ names were officially unmasked; other times they were so specifically described in the reports that their identities were readily discernible. …  

Some intercepted communications from November to January involved Trump transition figures or foreign figures’ perceptions of the incoming president and his administration. Intercepts involving congressional figures also have been unmasked occasionally for some time.

As House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., noted recently, the NSA is believed to be handing over “smoking gun” evidence to his panel and other congressional committees that Team Trump, and possibly the president-elect himself, were definitely under Obama-ordered surveillance, The National Sentinel reported.

That disclosure may come in the form of NSA logs that Circa News said the agency was to hand over to the congressional committees – logs that provide information as to who viewed intelligence reports with unmasked Americans’ identities since the summer of 2016.

As has been previously reported, FBI Director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee earlier this month that Team Trump was the subject of a counterintelligence probe last summer beginning in July. Also, Nunes himself dropped a bombshell last week, saying that, according to evidence he’d been given, Team Trump and perhaps even the president himself, were indeed under electronic surveillance.

Circa News noted that Obama’s 2011 changes and the information that Nunes’ panel will glean from the NSA logs are likely to become part of the Russia counterintelligence probes taking place by the House and Senate intelligence committees.

But the revelation says a lot about how very sensitive, raw data surveillance information about Trump and his transition team members made it into the open. (RELATED: BOMBSHELL: House Intel Chair Confirms Team Trump Under Surveillance During Obama Administration)

For the past 10 years, Americans’ expectations of privacy as they relate to intelligence gathering has been eroding, and always in the name of “national security.” While it began to occur in the Bush administration, thanks to provisions once contained in the USA Patriot Act, the erosion became steady in the Obama White House – ironic, since at one time then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama was mightily opposed to the notion of unchecked federal government surveillance.

Officials at the NSA told Circa News that the agency still seeks to protect the identity of any Americans caught up in their surveillance of foreign figures. But Obama’s rule changes certainly made that more difficult. According to a once-classified 2011 document the Obama White House filed with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which meets in secret, the justification for unmasking an American citizen is as easy as claiming “the identity of the United States person is necessary to understand foreign intelligence information or assess its importance” – very broad, indeed.

Allowing more agencies to do that, and then allowing political operatives to be given that information, goes a long way towards understanding how it was possible, legally, for intelligence data on Team Trump to be accessed so widely.

And it also helps explain how and why that information was leaked.

“There may be very good reasons for some political appointees to need access to a non-minimized intelligence reporting but we don’t know and given the breadth of unmasked sharing that went on, there is the strong possibility of abusive or excessive access that harmed Americans’ privacy,” an intel source familiar with the data told Circa News.

“Wholesale access to unmasked incidental NSA intercepts essentially created the potential for spying on Americans overseas after the fact, which is exactly what our foreign intelligence arms are not supposed to be doing,” another said.

J.D. Heyes is a senior writer for and, as well as editor of The National Sentinel.


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