Former CIA Operations Officer Brad Johnson talks about how the FBI and DOJ used FISA to get permission to spy on a U.S. citizen, the unverified evidence they used to show probable cause, and the current investigation into whether or not intelligence officials should be indicted for their actions.
Brad Johnson is a retired Senior Operations Officer and Chief of Station with the CIA and founder at Americans for Intelligence Reform. He is an expert in counterintelligence with 25 years of service.
The Law Against Spying on U.S. Citizens
Under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, the government can’t target someone outside of the United States with the actual intent to target a U.S. citizen. This is called “reverse targeting,” and it’s basically the underlying problem with the FISA warrants in the Russia Collusion case. A lot of media reports have been saying the FBI got those warrants so they could spy on Carter Page. So now the Inspector General is conducting his own investigation of how those warrants were obtained.
History of U.S. Espionage
Brad Johnson: There’s a long tradition of CIA operations or human intelligence operations, which is the espionage arm, if you will, of the United States government. And that began with the OSS during World War II, where we discovered that we desperately needed to know the information that was going on, what the enemy’s plans and intentions were. And, in fact, intelligence played a pivotal role in World War II. So the overall importance of it was recognized. Following World War II a few years later, building on OSS, they created the CIA as a civilian agency and non military arm of the government…So it’s the traditional terms with the spotting, assessing, and eventual recruitment of reporting sources or reporting assets that could tell the United States government secrets.
The CIA is huge. It’s a big organization. I compare it to the Air Force as a fairly close comparison. You have pilots that fly aircraft, and the principle duty of the Air Force is to put aircraft in the air, whether remotely or piloted, it doesn’t matter. They are to put airplanes in the air. And I would say it’s a very similar situation with the CIA. It’s to put operations officers out in the field. — Brad Johnson
Big Changes Under Obama
Brad Johnson: Now, a very important change took place under the Obama administration. The previous administration was John Brennan, the former director of the CIA. And what he did was he disbanded, got rid of, operations. So it’s a devastating blow to our capabilities to have that disbanded. He disbanded the operations aspect and called this modernization. Now, what he did do was bring in a lot of technical collection means and things like that where the world has evolved and social media and all of, all of the technical means of communications that exist out there now and how people interact have evolved and changed. So he adapted to that, but at the same time got rid of operations.
Stupid isn’t quite a strong enough word. It was beyond stupid. I don’t mean traitorous in the legal sense, but almost traitorous as to the interest of the national security of issues that we’re facing, especially today where it’s getting worse, not better because it’s sort of disbanded out. You don’t have to just worry about the Soviet Union. Now you’ve got this array of problems that are out there that you have to be prepared to face. And to disarm ourselves in the intelligence field is just abject stupidity. — Brad Johnson
Decades of Experience Lost
Brad Johnson: What you had was decades of building experience from OSS through up until John Brennan, where you developed these people, operations officers like myself, who had many overseas tours and a lot of experience and learned from the people that came from before them. And the lessons that were learned were then taught. It was lessons learned through blood, sweat, and tears literally. And those lessons have all been flushed down the toilet.
The problem now, as I said, with the disbanding of operations, as a directorate, you no longer have that pipeline of the 20 years of building that person, and you just draw from any old person. That has–and is–getting people killed. And it has lowered our guard because our capability to collect information that’s secret that the other guys don’t want us to know is diminished. So it’s a horrible thing that has to be turned around, and nobody’s even talking about it. The current director, Gina Haskell, who should know better, has done absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing. So it’s a disaster, I’ll put it that way. — Brad Johnson
Can you just briefly explain to us what a FISA warrant is and when can it be used?
Brad Johnson: The FISA warrant or the FISA process was basically the handshake to take place between intelligence on the one hand and law enforcement on the other. What happened is over the years you’d have a lot of cases where information was developed from foreign sources…So now since it was intelligence collected, you have to be cautious going into the courtroom because that will then uncover all of those espionage sources that are taking place. You had to have a way to pass the baton, if you will, and that was FISA. So FISA is really as much, if not more, an intelligence document than it is a legal document because the origin is intelligence. So it’s passed to law enforcement. Law Enforcement says, well, we have reason to believe that this guy is doing something, and we want to develop our own information on it. So the FISA warrant is approved by a judge. They then have the ability to then go collect on that group.
Brad Johnson: There’s nothing wrong with the FISA laws. The problem is when you have leadership at the FBI and DOJ be politically corrupt, you know, it can be abused. And that’s the problem we have everywhere. If the IRS at the leadership is politically corrupt, then they start targeting, say, conservative groups…The problem that we’re facing in today’s age is that these people get away with it. And then that does not deter future activities of the same sort. These things can be two-edged swords too. You don’t want both groups doing it. Whenever they get in power, it will become a third world country.
For the good of the United States, we really need to make sure that these investigations are fully carried out and all of those people who are guilty to whatever degree serve time, go to jail or whatever punishment there is. — Brad Johnson
Spying or Surveillance?
I recall in an article that you wrote for the Epoch Times that you said there’s a difference between surveillance and spying, and Attorney General Barr had said that he believes they were spying. So can you tell us what the difference is?
Brad Johnson: Yes. In this case it’s quite clear, very black and white issue for this sort of thing. And the reason is how it was treated by the FBI. And this shows again, the political corruption…I’ll give you two examples so that we can compare them and you can see the clear difference. Dianne Feinstein, the senator from California, has a man on her staff for 20 years who turns out to be a spy for the Chinese. And what the FBI did was precisely what they’re supposed to do. As soon as they discovered that, they went to Dianne Feinstein and said, Dianne, you’ve got this guy that we now know is a spy for the Chinese on your staff. Now she fired him, and unfortunately it stopped there. You saw a cover up began to take place.
Brad Johnson: Now, on the other hand, you had President Trump. They supposedly believed–we know this is false now–but they supposedly believed that at the time there was someone on President Trump’s campaign staff…colluding with the Russians from within the campaign. Now they’re under the same exact requirements to go to President Trump and say, hey, we suspect that guy’s working for the Russians on your campaign. That is surveillance.
The moment they made the decision not to inform President Trump, that is spying because Trump didn’t know. That is precisely a clear black and white legal difference between those two things. And that’s why what they did against Trump was spying. And that’s why what they did against Dianne Feinstein was surveillance. — Brad Johnson
The Steele Dossier
So in terms of intelligence protocols, what is important about the FBI’s first application for the FISA warrant, and why is it important for us to know about what they did?
Brad Johnson: The Steele Dossier was a political document. And one of the things that’s important for anyone listening to understand is everyone knew it was a political document from the very beginning, and the origin of it was paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign…It eventually ended up in the hands of a former FBI reporting asset and someone who had cooperated with MI6, the British intelligence. And so that man then was tasked to go get dirt on President Trump.
The Real Russia Collusion
Brad Johnson: So what he did do, according to the information available on his activities, is he reached out to some probably retired former KGB, SVRs, what is currently called Russian intelligence officers, to get from them whatever their information was on bad stuff that Trump might have done. KGB guys, they don’t really completely ever retire. So the first thing they would have done, they would go to all their active duty guys. There may have been active duty Russian intelligence guys involved with the Steele dossier. That created the perfect opportunity for Russian intelligence to plant whatever they wanted in there. So that was, in fact, an act of collusion. But beginning with the Hillary Clinton campaign, going to Steele, who was creating the Steele dossier. Now out of that, he didn’t have any information. Nobody had any information, so he just made it up.
Everybody knew it was false. Everybody knew it was a political document. But here’s the rub. The DOJ and the FBI all used it as if it was an intelligence document…So the problem is that they attested to that being an intelligence document and true to the best of their knowledge. They all knew it was false…So everybody who signed the FISA warrant…would be guilty of something along the lines of perjury. So there’s trouble there for those guys. — Brad Johnson
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