When Acting DNI Richard Grenell released the list of individuals who made unmasking requests relating to General Michael Flynn, one of the curious facts that stood out was the presence of a number of Obama Treasury Department officials on the list. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and no fewer than five of his subordinates–Deputy Secretary, Under Secretary, Acting Assistant Secretary, and so on, all political appointees in the Obama administration–all made unmasking requests with regard to conversations that turned out to involve General Flynn, on the same day: December 14, 2016. Lew made a second request on January 12, 2017.
The mystery of why President Obama’s Treasury Department was interested in electronic surveillance carried out for national security purposes may have been solved by this scoop in the Ohio Star: “The Treasury Department Spied on Flynn, Manafort, and the Trump Family, Says Whistleblower.”
President Barack Obama’s Treasury Department regularly surveilled retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn’s financial records and transactions beginning in December 2015 and well into 2017, before, during and after when he served at the White House as President Donald Trump’s National Security Director, a former senior Treasury Department official, and veteran of the intelligence community, told the Star Newspapers.
“I started seeing things that were not correct, so I did my own little investigation, because I wanted to make sure what I was seeing was correct” she said. “You never want to draw attention to something if there is not anything there.”
The whistleblower said she only saw metadata, that is names and dates when the general’s financial records were accessed. “I never saw what they saw.”
By March 2016, the whistleblower said she and a colleague, who was detailed to Treasury from the intelligence community, became convinced that the surveillance of Flynn was not tied to legitimate criminal or national security concerns, but was straight-up political surveillance among other illegal activity occurring at Treasury.
“When I showed it to her, what she said, ‘Oh, sh%t!’ and I knew right then and there that I was right – this was some shady stuff,” the whistleblower said.
“It wasn’t just him,” the whistleblower said. “They were targeting other U.S. citizens, as well.”
Only two names are listed in the whistleblower’s official paperwork, so the others must remain sealed, she said. The second name is Paul J. Manafort Jr., the one-time chairman of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
The other names include: Members of Congress, the most senior staffers on the 2016 Trump campaign and members of Trump’s family, she said.
The Star’s source says that she filed a formal complaint with the Treasury Department’s Inspector General in March 2017, but nothing was done. There is much more at the link.
In general, I don’t assume that purported “whistleblowers” have any special claim to credibility. Many are just disgruntled employees or dishonest political activists. But in this instance, the whistleblower’s claims would seem to be borne out by the unmasking logs.
Let’s recall what unmasking is all about. The National Security Agency, and perhaps other federal spy agencies, gather up an enormous number of communications by surveilling foreign agents, suspected terrorists, diplomats from hostile countries, and so on. These communications include telephone conversations and, I believe, emails. The spy agencies report on intercepted conversations that are potentially significant to various executive bodies, like the White House. Because they are authorized to spy only on foreigners, not Americans, they conceal the names of Americans who participate in communications with foreigners who are being surveilled. If someone like the Secretary of State, the Vice President, the White House Chief of Staff, or whoever, thinks it would be useful to know the identity of the American who cropped up in a particular conversation, he or she can identify that conversation and request that the American be “unmasked,” i.e., identified.
Given that background, one wonders: what does the Treasury Department have to do with any of this? Is the Treasury Department routinely copied on intercepts by the National Security Agency? I wouldn’t think so. If not, how would Treasury know to request the unmasking of a particular American in a particular conversation with a foreigner? The most plausible answer, I think, is that someone else in the Obama administration had unmasked General Flynn (in this particular case) and believed that the conversation in question might provide grist for the Treasury Department’s political mill.
I believe it would be illegal for one Obama official to pass “unmasked” information along to another official in a different department. So I suspect that someone in the Obama national security apparatus saw something in an intercepted communication involving General Flynn that he or she believed Treasury could make use of in undermining the incoming Trump administration. That person couldn’t pass on the information, so instead, he or she identified the communication in question so that Treasury could make its own unmasking request to the intelligence agencies.
Maybe there is another explanation, but that is the only one I can come up with.
The Treasury Department presumably was interested in financial records of Trump associates, as opposed to national security matters, and the whistleblower who talked to the Star explained:
This surveillance program was run out of Treasury’s Office of Intelligence Analysis, which was then under the leadership of S. Leslie Ireland. Ireland came to OIA in 2010 after a long tenure at the Central Intelligence Agency and a one-year stint as Obama’s daily in-person intelligence briefer.
The whistleblower said Treasury should never have been part of the unmasking of Flynn, because its surveillance operation was off-the-books. That is to say, the Justice Department never gave the required approval to the Treasury program, and so there were no guidelines, approvals nor reports that would be associated with a DOJ-sanctioned domestic surveillance operation.
Patrick Conlon, the OIA director, who succeeded Ireland, was on the list of 37 Obama administration officials who either requested that Flynn’s name be unmasked or were shown the unmasked surveillance product.
Conlon accessed the Flynn file Dec. 14, 2016.
There must have been some kind of meeting that day. These are all of the other Treasury Department officials looking at Flynn that day: Secretary Jacob Lew, Acting Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis A. Daniel “Danny” McGlynn, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis Michael Neufeld, Deputy Secretary Sarah Raskin, Under Secretary Nathan Sheets and Acting Under Secretary Adam Szubin.
We don’t know what Flynn communication these Obama officials were poring over, but we do know that the Treasury Department was never able to make any kind of a case against Flynn for financial misdeeds of any kind. It bears remembering that Jacob Lew was an unusually political Secretary of the Treasury. He was Obama’s Chief of Staff before taking over the Treasury Department. We have written about him several times, e.g. here.
Evidence continues to grow that the corruption of the executive branch of the U.S. government by Barack Obama was comprehensive and perhaps unprecedented.