To understand what Crossfire Hurricane was all about, it helps to begin with the realization that it was not the FBI's first choice--in the big picture it amounts to a fall back option that was more or less forced on the FBI by circumstances beyond their control.
Make no mistake about it--the FBI was all in with the effort to enable a Democrat presidential handoff from Obama to Clinton. In modern political campaigns, intelligence and data in digital form is essential to success, and that's where the FBI came in. Running informants, such as Halper, against the GOP wasn't going to guarantee a Clinton victory--not in and of itself. However, access to bulk amounts of sensitive inside data could play a significant role. And the FBI had that access, in the form of access to raw NSA data, which means just about all digital communications in the world. Remember Nellie Ohr? The former CIA contractor and former employee of Fusion GPS? She became a ham radio operator during the 2016 campaign, so I guess she understood what it takes to fly under the Deep State radar.
Now, the FBI wasn't about to do something totally stupid, like mine the NSA for data and ship boatloads of it over to the DNC or some other intermediary to the Clinton campaign. Not as an institution. No, the smart way to do this would be to hire non-government contractors--we'll call them Fusion GPS and Crowdstrike--to provide the FBI with "analytical assistance." As if the FBI didn't have an army of analysts already. And then give these contractors total access to NSA data without telling NSA, who would have thought that only FBI employees were combing through their data. You can read the gory details in Jeff Carlson's excellent article: The FBI’s Outside Contractors, DNC Servers & Crowdstrike.
The beauty of this approach was that it totally bypassed legal controls. There was no need to falsify things in writing, no need to make stuff up to open a Full (Counterintelligence) Investigation (FI) on a US Person (USPER), and then lie to the FISC to get FISA coverage on the USPER. No need to have to regularly renew the FISA and lie all over again to the FISC each time. Of course, it wasn't as if the FISC was doing much besides rubber stamping FISA applications but, hey, who needs the bother? And besides, better safe than sorry. Because, in the unlikely event that the FBI would be questioned about this arrangement, they could just play dumb: Gosh, we didn't know the contractors were looking at all that stuff! How do you prove criminal intent?
So this cute arrangement was humming along, working like a charm. For how long? That's hard to say, but we know that it was in operation no later than December of 2015. And the way that came to light was that in the Spring of 2016 the unlikely event actually occurred: Admiral Mike Rogers, head of NSA, learned of irregularities in FBI accessing of NSA data and did an audit of the activity. That audit covered the period beginning from December 2015, and it discovered that fully 85% of the queries failed to comply with what are called "minimization procedures" (procedures designed to shield the identities of persons who fell within certain criteria--like, USPERs who had no connection to intelligence or terrorist activities). Then, as if Rogers learning about this weren't bad enough, Rogers went and blew a whistle--to the FISC itself--and put a stop to it all. That was in April, 2016, just as it was becoming obvious that Trump was going to be the GOP candidate for President.
Naturally this put the FBI in a bind. Everything had been working so smoothly, freeing the FBI's top agents to play make believe investigation of things like the Clinton Foundation and Hillary's home brewed email server. With Rogers having thrown a monkey wrench into the works, the question became: how could the FBI continue to please their Democrat masters, with the non-government contractors out of the picture?
Well, as it happened, there was a way to continue access to all that data, but there would be a lot more work involved and a lot more fudging of the facts would be required. What the FBI needed to do was to get a FISA order that would give them legal access to the Trump campaign. Now, when I say "legal access" I mean that in a formal sense: the legal requirements would appear to be satisfied, but the underlying facts might be a bit dodgy. Or even very dodgy. But what would be required to obtain that sort of FISA coverage would be a FI on an USPER connected to the Trump campaign, because the FISA law and The Attorney General's Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations stipulate that FISA can only be used if there's a FI authorized and open. (N.B., these Guidelines supersede, essentially by incorporation, the earlier Attorney General Guidelines for FBI National Security Investigations and Foreign Intelligence Collection. Which is to say, for our purposes, they're the same in essentials.)
Moreover, opening a FI isn't so easy, especially not on an USPER (for the details, refer to the Guidelines--it's all spelled out there). For starters, since FISA is a CI technique you need to come up with a nexus to a hostile foreign power. That means the FBI needed to identify someone associated with the Trump campaign who had some connection to a hostile foreign power. What hostile foreign power? Well, Russia comes to mind, since it was in the news so much. So, the obvious approach was to examine the roster of Trump's foreign policy advisers for a likely candidate--someone with Russian connections. Again, I say "likely candidate," but if you read the Guidelines you'll realize that simply having a connection to a hostile foreign power such as Russia doesn't mean the FBI can open a FI on you. Heck, Bill and Hillary Clinton had those connections, as did John Podesta and plenty of others in that crowd. No, essentially, you need to show that the USPER in question is probably a spy. Exactly how are you going to do that, especially when the likelihood of it being true is approximately zero?
One time honored way is to simply pay people to say that your targeted USPERs are spies. For example, Glenn Simpson at Fusion GPS--an opposition research firm for the Clinton campaign--knew a former MI-6 operative named Christopher Steele. For a price, Steele could write up a "dossier" that purported to provide information from Russian sources that could arguably provide the basis for opening a FI on Trump foreign policy advisers or, who knows, on Trump himself! Let's see. We know that Carter Page traveled to Moscow recently, maybe Steele's "sources" could say that Page met with bad people there, and then Steele could pass that along to Fusion GPS, who could pass it along to the FBI. That's good, but it's inherently unverifiable, so it would be helpful to have some additional sourcing. Where could that come from?
Well, the FBI had a source, who we'll call Stefan Halper. They could claim that Halper had a long history of providing highly reliable, highly specific information in the CI field. The FBI could contrive a way to have Halper put himself in contact with Trump foreign policy advisers. Halper could then feed back "information" that could be used to buttress Steele and Simpson's "dossier." That might cost a bit, but it would be worth it and, anyway, the US Government would be footing the bill, so ...
But there's a bit of a catch at this point, related to the fact that Halper is a US citizen and the FBI is a US agency that's supposed to follow US law. It's one thing for a Brit like Steele to volunteer information, but for a US law enforcement and CI agency like the FBI to direct a source to get in touch with a targeted USPER the FBI needs to have an open investigation on that USPER. How do they do that, if the whole point of the exercise of acquiring source information is to open an FI? Well, there's a way. There's always a way.
If you consult the Guidelines, you'll find that there's more than one kind of investigation. There's the FI, which we've already discussed, and we know that the threshhold for opening a FI on an USPER is, in practice, fairly high. Fortunately for the FBI there's also a type of investigation with a much lower threshhold, called a Preliminary Investigation (PI). Now, you can't get FISA coverage with a PI, but you can use most other investigative techniques (and, yes, the Guidelines spell all this out, too). For example, you can use National Security Letters. Or Pen Registers. Or consensual monitoring. And, handily for this case, the Guidelines allow the FBI to use the investigative technique of putting sources in contact with your target and seeking to develop information of use. And that might help provide predication for that all important FI, which in turn could serve as the basis for FISA coverage.
My assumption is that the FBI would have wanted to play this by the book, to preserve at least the appearance of legality. That means they would have had at least one PI opened in order to use Halper to target USPERs in the Trump campaign, and there may have actually been several PIs opened. This would have happened in April or May of 2016, whereas the FI that was eventually opened (on Carter Page) was opened on July 31, 2016. What was happening in the meantime? Quite a bit. Steele was busy writing "reports" for his "dossier" during that time period. Halper was in contact with Trump foreign policy advisers: George Papadopoulos and Carter Page. And, intriguingly, a dodgy Russian lawyer offered "dirt on Hillary" to the Trump campaign and met at Trump Towers on June 9, 2016 with ... Don Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort.
Why is that Trump Towers meeting so intriguing to me? Because it has many of the earmarks of a setup, and because many of the factors surrounding the meeting don't add up in any other way. For example. The Russian lawyer, Veselnitskaya, who met with Trump Jr. and Manafort had to be admitted to the US on a special visa by AG Lynch. The reason Veselnitskaya came to the US was to lobby against the sanctions that the Obama administration had placed on Russia. Why would the Obama administration go to any trouble for that? In addition, when Veselnitskaya showed up at Trump Towers, instead of dishing dirt on Hillary she only wanted to talk about sanctions. Is it possible that she was trying to set up a situation in which the Trump campaign might appear to be entering into some sort of quid pro quo with regard to easing of sanctions? If so, that would certainly work for initiating a FI--or even torpedoeing the Trump candidacy entirely. We know that Veselnitskaya met with Glenn Simpson both shortly before and shortly after the meeting. Was Simpson cooperating with the FBI? We know he had connections to the FBI. Was this whole meeting an FBI directed setup, or attempted setup? There seems no question but that that would have served the end that the FBI was clearly working toward: authorization for a FI and FISA coverage.
In any event, these various efforts bore fruit, because on July 31, 2016, a FI on Carter Page was opened, which we now know was codenamed Crossfire Hurricane. The authorization for that FI was based in large part on Steele and Simpson's "dossier." However, since the FBI almost immediately attempted to parley that FI into a FISA warrant, and we know from Devin Nunes as well as James Comey that the FISA application was based on more than just the "dossier," we can safely assume that Halper's contacts with Page were a factor as well. In the event, the FISA warrant wasn't obtained until shortly before the election, but it has continued to serve a valuable purpose by providing at least an arguable legal basis for the FBI's actions.
So there we are. But for Mike Rogers at NSA, who forced the FBI into more open action, the American people would probably have been none the wiser regarding the politicization and weaponization of our Government intelligence agencies and of the Deep State's attempted manipulation of the 2016 election. As I said at the top, there's plenty more that needs to be fit into this scenario--the role of John Brennan at the CIA, in particular. But for now, this should serve as a useful framework.
Today, @ 4:52 EST sundance at CTH, in the course of a slightly longer blog post, included two paragraphs that succinctly second what I'm saying in this post. Yes, it's important to understand the distinctions in the Guidelines that the FBI operates under--Preliminary v. Full Investigations, and so forth. But the real big picture has to do with the use by the Intelligence Community agencies of electronic surveillance in an attempt to prevent the election of Donald Trump and then, in the wake of that election, to nullify the electorate's choice. Hear are those two paragraphs:
As we have outlined since early 2017, it is the: unlawful FISA(702) search query issues; the prior investigation by NSA Director Mike Rogers; the admissions by the DOJ-NSD and FBI; and the fraudulent FISA court application (Carter Page) which lay at the heart of everything that took place within the spying and surveillance operation.
Everything that happened AFTER April 2017 in the spying and surveillance of the Trump campaign, happened downstream. All activity, including the counterintelligence operation, the Steele Dossier, the need for Stefan Halper (agent provocateur), the FISA warrant on Carter Page, everything…. all of that action was downstream consequences from Mike Rogers building the FISA dam to shut down contractor use of the NSA and FBI databases.