Thursday, May 23, 2019

Carter Page, The Steele "Dossier", And The FISA Hop Hop

Late last night, commenter Forbes raised the question of the two-hop method under FISA for gaining additional information. The importance of this lies in the Carter Page FISA. Carter Page has stated publicly (summarized here) that, although he stepped down from the Trump campaign in September, 2016, he remained in touch with members of the campaign and, later, of the transition. Among those with whom Page stayed in touch was Steve Bannon, chief strategist and senior counselor to the president:

Over the weekend, Page told The Federalist that after he left the Trump campaign in late September 2016, he continued to communicate with individuals officially connected to the campaign. “Yes, I stayed in touch with them – including during the transition months and after the start of the new administration,” Page said. While Page refused to identify all of the individuals with whom he maintained a relationship in order to protect their privacy, he confirmed that he remained in contact with Steve Bannon. 
Although the publicly released Page FISA orders redact the surveillance methods authorized and the modes of communication the FBI could target, it is safe to assume that any communication device Page used would be tapped, including cell phones, text, and email. Thus, the FBI would have access to any text and emails Page exchanged with Bannon or other members of the campaign, transition team, or administration, as well as the ability to eavesdrop on any telephone calls. 
But Page went further, telling The Federalist ... “I can also tell you on the record,” Page said, “that one of the things that the FBI investigators were interested in were my early 2017 text messages with Steve Bannon (irrelevant as they may be).” 
Page refused to expand on the content of his early 2017 text messages with Bannon, but suggested that the subject matter of those texts was unimportant—it was the FBI’s interest in, and probing about, his exchanges with Bannon that proved infinitely more significant. That probing came when the FBI interviewed Page multiple times in March 2017, at a time when James Comey, Andrew McCabe, and Peter Strzok remained in charge of the Russia collusion investigation.

The issue Forbes raised regarding "Two Hop" relates to the ability of the government to obtain not only the records of the targeted individual (Page) but also of persons "two hops" distant, in a sort of concentric circle around Page. This would, theoretically, give the government the ability to determine how wide Page's conspiracy to collude with Russia was and who its members were. Since Bannon would undoubtedly be in touch with Trump, presumably Trump would fall within those two concentric circles.

First of all, we need to be clear about what the Two Hop method obtains. The Carter Page FISA warrant gave the FBI everything electronic related to Carter Page--including the content of his communications. The Two Hop method doesn't give content for everything within the additional concentric circles--it provides data relating to the communications, Call Detail Records, or CDRs. What these records can do is provide an investigator with a given person's network of contacts, which can be sorted for dates and times. Given the right supporting evidence, this alone can be powerful evidence in a prosecution--trust me on this. From a political standpoint, this information can provide targeting information for opposition researchers. Fortunately for Trump, there are strict rules against leaking this information, so he doesn't have any concerns about the enormous volume of data that the FBI collected getting into hostile hands.

Secondly, this data doesn't come automatically with a FISA warrant. The FBI has to apply for an order for the production of this data and has to satisfy certain requirements. However, those requirements are basically the same as the requirements for the FISA warrant--which means that it in practice the data comes fairly automatically, only that a separate step is required. All of this is handled in an ex parte judicial procedure, meaning that no one is present to represent any view in opposition to that of the government.

Finally, for our purposes ...

In the case of Carter Page we're dealing with a US Person, an USPER. In such a case, as with FISA generally, the government is required to make certain showings. Having presented most of that evidence already in the FISA application, the application for Two Hop data is mostly pro forma. The important part is that the government must show:

that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the data that is sought is relevant to an authorized investigation to protect against clandestine intelligence activity;
this will be presumed if in the government's statement of facts the government shows that the data pertains to an agent of a foreign power; or
to an individual in contact with, or known to, the suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of the authorized investigation.

I hope you can see from this why, in the past, I've said that Carter Page's trip to Moscow to deliver a commencement address must have come like manna from heaven to the Russia Hoax plotters. Also why I remain suspicious that the invitation to Page was a setup, a "lure" to draw him to Moscow and prime the whole narrative about his "clandestine intelligence activity." All of the required criteria above are reflected in the Steele "dossier" account of Page's trip to Moscow and in the Carter Page FISA application. Carter Page is described as an agent of a foreign power but, more importantly, when he traveled to Moscow he "met secretly" with top Putin regime insiders. How do we know? Chris Steele had sources who told us so.

Ask yourself: Was Donald Trump "known to" Carter Page, the suspected agent of a foreign power? Yes? Guess what--the Two Hop rule is in play. The FBI can apply for and obtain the CDRs for all Trump's communications. And, since Page remained in contact with the Trump campaign and transition organizations, as well as with the fledgling administration, we now understand why the FBI continued to apply for extensions to the Carter Page FISA. We also see why, despite all protestations to the contrary, the Steele "dossier" is absolutely central and essential to the whole Russia Hoax coup plot. Without it, none of the "spying" that took place happens.

This leads to two more questions.

First, can you imagine the effort that must have gone into interrogating Carter Page and attempting to frame him up in some sort of misstatement or "lie" to the FBI? To neutralize Page and discredit him as a liar would have served to insulate the coup plotters by suggesting that Page was just the sort of liar who might be an agent of a foreign power.

Second, think back to the Steele "dossier's" account of Michael Cohen's trip to Prague. Recall--he didn't go there as a tourist. He went there and engaged in "clandestine" meetings with Russian intel operatives--so says Chris Steele. Does the use of that key word, "clandestine," suggest to you that maybe Cohen was also targeted with FISA? It should. It's not a happenstance word--it's a technical term that is key to FISA and to counterintelligence investigations generally. This is why House investigators have repeatedly stated that they want to know how many FISA applications there really were.

Finally, if you want to read up on this topic, here are a few resources--but know that there's much more to be said.

50 U.S. Code § 1861. Access to certain business records for foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations

Three FISA Authorities Sunset in December: Here’s What You Need to Know

FISA’s License to Hop


  1. Two observations made by the London Center's Tony Shaffer in the Epoch Times interview from a couple weeks ago.

    IIRC, he surmised that people other than Page were surveilled under FISA warrants.

    And that an exception (authorized in the WH by the national security advisor) is required to NOT inform an American who has come in contact with a foreign agent--as Page was assumed to be in the CI investigation--so that you can avoid aiding or abetting said foreign agent.

    This appears to explain (in part) Susan Rice's Jan 20, 2017 memo to the file which implicates the WH inner sanctum as knowing/complicit in the CI investigation.

    The Page FISA renewals appear to exhibit the triumph hope over experience, which included the belief that the Steele dossier represented actual evidence--even if under the assumption of "too good to check"--rather than the spurious allegations that they actually were.

    1. When I listened to Shaffer I took note of his statement about informing Americans who have come in contact with a foreign agent. That's the one thing he said that I believe he's mistaken about. I'm willing to be corrected, but I believe he's wrong about that. For the rest I thought it was spot on.

    2. I'm speaking of a requirement that requires an exception, which is how he put it. Not simply common practice in the usual course of things.

    3. Except the FBI knew he was NOT an agent of Russia.

    4. Among quite a number of things they knew were not true.