The Notorious B.I.G. famously alleged that federal agents were mad because he was flagrant. President Donald Trump also believes he has a beef with the feds. This week on Intercepted, Trump accused Obama of tapping his phones, causing FBI director James Comey to lose his shit. Obama officials are denying it up and down and Trump’s surrogates are trying to figure out if their boss knows something they don’t. It sounds crazy, but is there anything to Trump’s tweets? We talk with Intercept investigative reporter Matthew Cole and muckraking journalist Marcy Wheeler of emptywheel. Never count WikiLeaks out — the group just published a massive cache of CIA hacking secrets. The Intercept’s Sam Biddle and Josh Begley discuss what the revelations can teach us about our “smart” TVs and appliances and the security of chat apps like Signal and WhatsApp. As ICE raids intensify and deportations accelerate, independent journalist Aura Bogado confronts the opening stages of Trump’s assault on undocumented immigrants. Legendary punk band Anti-Flag performs for Intercepted from a garage in Pittsburgh. Plus, Donald Trump “stars” in “Goodfellas,” where he’s chased by the mob and the FBI. Can he get out of Mar-a-Lago alive? Tune in to find out!
Anthony Atamanuik as Donald J. Trump: If you’re a part of a crew, nobody ever tells you that they’re going to kill you. It doesn’t happen that way. There aren’t any arguments or curses, like in the movies. Your murderers come with smiles. They come as your friends, the people who have cared for you all your life. And they always seem to come at a time when you’re at your weakest and most in need of their help.
So I met James Comey — Jimmy — in a crowded place we both knew. I got there 15 minutes early, and I saw that Jimmy was already there. He took the booth near the window so he could see everyone who drove up to the restaurant. He wanted to make sure I wasn’t tailed. He was jumpy. He hadn’t touched a thing. During the campaign against Hillary, Jimmy would have ordered doubles and eaten it all. On the surface, of course, everything was supposed to be fine. We were supposed to be discussing her emails, just like we always would. But I had a feeling Jimmy was trying to sense whether I was going to rat him out to save my neck.
Robert DeNiro as Jimmy Conway: It’s gonna be okay. I think you’ve got a good chance of beating the case.
AA as DJT: How?
RD as JC: Well, you know that kid? You know, from the city we’re talking about? You know who I’m talking about.
AA as DJT: Yeah.
RD as JC: That kid turned out to be a rat. As soon as he got pinched, he ratted everybody out. He ratted us all out. I know where he is. He’s hiding now. Know what I’m saying? Would you have a problem going with Anthony on vacation to take care of that?
AA as DJT: No, not at all.
RD as JC: Anyway, they got nothin’, huh?
AA as DJT: Now Jimmy had never asked me for facts to back up my tweets before. But now he’s asking me to go down to Florida to hit some balls and stay off Breitbart, Morning Joe, Fox & Friends, Twitter. That’s when I knew I’d never come back from Florida with my insecure Samsung phone, with my @realDonaldTrump Twitter login, with the password — all caps — “AMERICA,” saved for convenience.
AA as DJT: I was going to be busy all day. I had to send out some tweets to match some classified intelligence I just read on Breitbart. Turns out that Kenyan socialist had tapped Trump Tower. Nothing found — McCarthyism. I had to hit some balls on the course with some foreign guy whose name I can’t even pronounce, and hook him up with some Trump stakes on the al fresco patio at Mar-a-Lago. And then I had to find some Scotch tape for my necktie — Trump brand, Made in China, the best ties — to fly up to some customers I had back in Washington. At least Arnold got fired. Pathetic ratings.
Arnold Schwarzenegger: You’re terminated.
AA as DJT: Right away, I knew Jimmy didn’t respect my tweets. I knew I was going to get stuck with his fake questions about evidence. I only hammered on the damn Hillary emails at the end because his letter was so tremendous. And now, he didn’t want my tweets.
RD as JC: What the fuck good are these things? They don’t even fit. What’s the matter with you? What do you, want me to pay for this shit? I’m not paying for it.
AA as DJT: I didn’t say a thing. Jimmy was so pissed, he didn’t even say goodbye.
AA as DJT: I bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to the election. I knew my guys — Bannon, Gorka, Miller — always wanted my tweets. And since I was going to see them later in the afternoon to pick up a delivery, I was pretty sure I’d get my mojo back.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City. And this is episode seven of Intercepted.
On Tuesday, Donald Trump jumped out from behind a screen in the White House and surprised a bunch of schoolchildren on a White House tour.
In unrelated news, Trump also jumped on Twitter and apparently surprised the intelligence community by accusing former President Barack Obama of tapping him, or wiretapping, as he put it, Trump Tower.
[The Notorious B.I.G, “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems”]
The Notorious B.I.G: I don’t know what they want from me
It’s like the more money we come across
The more problems we see
JS: The Notorious B.I.G. famously alleged that the feds were angered by his flagrant nature, and therefore, they tapped his phones. It seems that Easy D, The Notorious DJT, also believes the feds had beef with him.
TNB: Federal agents mad ‘cause I flagrant
Tap my cell and the phone in the basement
JS: Now, Trump’s spokespeople had a pretty brutal few days trying to explain what the hell Trump was talking about and where he actually got this information, and it still remains pretty damn murky. That’s because, as of now, it really does seem that it’s likely that Trump got it from this bizarre labyrinth of rumors that ended up on Breitbart News as a story. And of course, Breitbart News it the official publication of Hair Force One. But defend it, the administration did.
Kellyanne Conway: He’s the president of the United States. He has information and intelligence that the rest of us do not.
Sean Spicer: I think the president’s tweets speak for themselves.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders: The president firmly believes that the Obama administration may have tapped into the phones at Trump Tower.
JS: Now, a bunch of Obama-era intelligence officials, they also rushed onto TV to say, “We have no idea what Trump’s talking about.” Though some of those denials were curious, and we’re gonna discuss that in a few minutes. But where the story gets really nutty is when James Comey enters the scene. James Comey, of course, is the FBI director, and he was one of the only officials that Trump kept in their top positions when the transition happened from the Obama administration to the Trump administration. And Comey, as you recall, gave what many viewed as this boost to Trump in the waning moments of the campaign against Hillary Clinton, when he published this memo basically saying, “Hey, this investigation into her emails is really intensifying.”
Well, it seems now that James Comey is probably not gonna get any invitations to hang out at the Winter White House any time soon. The New York Times reported that when Comey read Trump’s tweets about President Obama tapping Trump Tower, that he asked the Justice Department to go and actually publicly reject Trump’s assertions. Now, that has not happened, and it very well may not happen. Now, the Trump strategy seems to be shifting to push from his Twitter feed over to Capitol Hill, and assign the Republicans on the intelligence committees and others in Congress to use public funds to retroactively investigate and come up with evidence to prove that what Trump was saying on Twitter, that he likely obtained from Breitbart, that it actually is true.
Hallie Jackson, MSNBC: So, bottom line: Why would the president want Congress to investigate for information he already has?
Sean Spicer: I think there’s a separation of powers aspect here, as I mentioned to Jonathan, that we think it’s —
HJ: So you talk about resources and time. Why waste that?
SS: Well, it’s not a question of waste it. It’s a question of appropriateness.
Ayesha Rascoe: So, but President Trump’s Twitter statements shouldn’t be taken at face value about what —
SS: Sure it should. Of course it — I mean, why — what? No.
JS: Now, just because Trump’s making allegations on Twitter based on whatever he last read on Breitbart or saw on TV doesn’t mean there isn’t something to actually discuss here and to look at carefully. And what we want to do now is actually sift through this, analyze it, see if there is a there there, or if there is some shred of legitimacy to even digging into this story. Now, remember, Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, he lied under oath on this issue of whether the NSA was collecting personal data on millions of Americans. We know the NSA has vast surveillance powers. The FBI also has vast surveillance powers, and the FBI also has a pretty dirty record of politically motivated surveillance. And with this Trump – Russia shit, there’s definitely a lot of smoke there, especially when it comes to people like his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and Carter Page. And then you have this, like, pandemic of amnesia that has just struck the Trump inner circle over who met with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.
Jeff Sessions: Uh, I don’t recall.
JS: Now, is it possible that a so-called FISA warrant, a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant, was ordered that authorized the surveillance of one or more Trump associates or physical property? That FISA order would be needed for certain kinds of surveillance in the United States or against American citizens. Or was there a criminal warrant that authorized some sort of surveillance connected to Trump associates or Trump property? Former officials and the current FBI director, they appear to be saying no, no to both. But moreover, if there was some sort of surveillance, was it actually aimed at Donald Trump or his campaign, or is there something we just don’t know yet about who may have been investigating whom for what? With this administration, it’s a really fucking insane challenge, given the tangled web of private interests, conflicts of interest, lies, misdirection, and a side order of total batshit insanity.
Joining me now to break this down into something we hope vaguely resembles an explanation are two people. Matthew Cole is an investigative reporter here at The Intercept. His latest bombshell expose really is like a small book called “The Crimes of SEAL Team 6.” It’s a phenomenal work of journalism, and I recommend everyone read it. And we’re joined by Marcy Wheeler. She is, without a doubt, one of the smartest, most dogged researchers and journalists I know. Her website, emptywheel, is really must-read for people that truly geek out on national security and secrecy and espionage. I want to welcome Marcy Wheeler to Intercepted.
Marcy Wheeler: Thanks.
JS: Matthew Cole, good to have you here too.
Matthew Cole: Thank you.
JS: Marcy, let’s begin with you. So walk us through your analysis of this whole
Trump wiretap mess.
MW: It’s a game of telephone that ends up in a Breitbart article that Trump reads and kind of goes nuts. But it goes back to a story on a server that was — Trump’s server that was pinging Alfa Bank in Russia, and also Spectrum Health here in Grand Rapids. You guys debunked it. I debunked it. A bunch of security people said, “Here’s what it really probably is.” Very importantly, it was about a server in Philadelphia, not a server in Trump Tower. But this former Tory MP rock star promoter wife turned investigative tweeter wrote about it. She got a tip that there was a FISA order on — you know, associated with the Trump investigation. She wrote about it, and she said that the server in question was in Trump Tower. Andrew McCarthy picked it up and said it was improperly investigating crimes versus intelligence. There was the whole EO 12333 sharing thrown in.
So Breitbart packages that up and at each stage kind of makes it worse. Trump, coming off a really angry response to Jeff Sessions recusing from the Russian investigation, reads it, and then just goes nuts on Saturday morning.
JS: And now, we had James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, said on some of the Sunday shows:
James Clapper: I can’t speak officially anymore, but I will say that for the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president, the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign.
JS: You parsed some of his words and found some interesting gaps in what he didn’t say, or how he said the things that he did. And we should say that James Clapper himself is a known, proven liar on the issue of what kind of data is being collected on American citizens. So talk about James Clapper’s response to all of this.
MW: This FISA order story has only been reported on by an American journalist with McClatchy’s single source confirming it. Everything else has been British. And the more credible versions of that story say it was targeted at not just Alfa Bank, but another Russian bank. And that by itself didn’t make a lot of sense. But in any case, he denied a narrow claim, which is that anybody associated with Trump’s campaign was the target of the FISA order. And remember that key people that we’ve been talking about, Paul Manafort, and Carter Page, both left the campaign. So once they leave, are they then fair game to not be included in that denial for James Clapper? Given his least untruthful statements in the past, could be.
JS: So Marcy, for people that don’t follow this stuff on a granular level like you do, just explain what a FISA court order is.
MW: As used in this description, it has been taken to mean an individualized order used to collect in the United States. So if James Clapper or Jim Comey wanted to wiretap you or me, he would have to go to the FISA court, and they’d have to say, “Okay, you know, Jeremy Scahill, bad guy, Marcy Wheeler, bad girl. We’re gonna individually wiretap that person.” You can also target it at a facility. So you can target it at, say, a bank, or a server. But generally speaking, what we’re talking about is individualized orders to conduct intelligence wiretapping in the United States.
But again, the other important thing to remember is, the intelligence community has this kind of gimmick on language, such that if they were targeting Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, and we know they did, and an American spoke to Anwar al-Awlaki, then that American would also be picked up, but would not be treated as the target of that surveillance. That would be called incidental collection. It doesn’t give the American any more protections. It’s just the intelligence community’s easy way of excusing the fact that they’re collecting on all these Americans, and they don’t have a warrant or any probable cause for these other people, just that they’re talking to Anwar al-Awlaki.
JS: Matthew Cole, in the bigger picture here, there’s been a debate about whether or not there is a Deep State. You’ve spent the better part of your life as a journalist investigating covert Navy SEAL operations, the inner workings of the CIA. What is your read on these questions around Trump’s relationship with the intelligence community, and if there is a sort of secret heroic cabal within the intelligence community that is fighting to save us all from the Trump administration?
MC: The question of Deep State is sort of, as many things are in our current political environment, sort of a mishmash of multiple things. And some of it is legitimate, and some of it’s illegitimate. I think that there’s no question that the national security state, the Department of Defense, the intelligence community, are comprised of professionals who spend 20 to 30 years working in those jobs, sometimes more. And those jobs don’t turn over when presidents leave and enter the White House. And so, there is a continuity there that makes them both experts and also the people who move the levers within the executive branch for collection, for activity, for espionage. And to the extent that those people have worked together, have knowledge that the average American doesn’t have, that politicians, who until they become president or get the kind of security clearance and access that they can get in, never see, that does exist.
And the possibility or the ability to manipulate or use information that’s behind that, you know, on the “high side,” as they call it, the very classified wall that is behind top secret clearances — it is absolutely possible. And we know historically that presidents use that secrecy to omit and hide, and then selectively reveal or leak out other parts of a narrative to push, you know, a political gain of theirs, whether it’s getting re-elected or, you know, trying to sell a war, if you want to call that the Deep State, then there absolutely is a Deep State.
On the other hand, I don’t think that what we’re seeing here is the noble work of intelligence professionals who are trying to save the republic from the disaster that could be President Donald J. Trump. I think what we are seeing is a concerted effort to leak what may have been picked up in the waning days of the Obama administration, and where there is any sense of smoke in this narrative, they are leaking all of the smoke. And I just want to say I’m not knocking the reporters, by the way. I’m not implicitly knocking the reporters. The Post and the New York Times and CNN have done a great job. They’re doing a fantastic job of reporting out what the intelligence professionals under the previous administration, and to some extent, the carryover into this administration, believe is smoke.
Now, they imply — all of it seems to imply that there’s fire — that there is deep collusion between the president and his men with Putin and the Russian government. There has been zero evidence to show that thus far. And where the Deep State narrative gets grafted onto that, that becomes, I think, very troubling and dangerous because we don’t know who the officials who are leaking the information is, and we, I think — you know, I go back to Brennan’s last public statements when he was still Director of Central Intelligence. He went on the Fox News program with Chris Wallace. And to be honest, he was sort of stunning, that there was a sitting head of U.S. intelligence, when asked a question about whether or not the U.S. intelligence community had gathered evidence that the incoming president, the president-elect, had colluded with a foreign adversary, he didn’t deny it.
John Brennan: And so, if we did come into contact with that type of information, it would have been shared with the FBI, and we would make sure that our intelligence committees then were aware of it as well.
MC: That is really stunning, and a real act, I think, of partisan — you know, political — you know, he was acting like a political hack on the behalf of his former boss, the president, for whom he was very close to and very loyal. And in that regard, you end up with Donald Trump coming in as president, furious with the intelligence agencies. And I’d argue he has a right to be. That — you know, they made a very clear message that, “we don’t like you, we don’t want you. You may even be illegitimate. And to the extent that you may be illegitimate, we’re gonna try to dig it up.” You’re getting this war going between the president in the White House and the intelligence agencies. And there have been times in this mess thus far that I’ve been sympathetic to the White House, because it is dangerous if there is no fire. If it’s just smoke, then the repetitive accumulation of leaks, it threatens the stability of the executive branch. And leave aside who is currently occupied in the White House, that is — that, to me, is really scary.
JS: Well, Matthew Cole clearly is not auditioning for a job as political pundit on MSNBC, and he will not be cited in a positive way by the chief of the resistance, Keith Olbermann. Marcy Wheeler, I wanted to ask you: David Frum, former George W. Bush speechwriter, who now is being celebrated by a lot of the law and order Democrats as this ally of theirs, tweeted recently, “The Deep State, otherwise known as uniforms that guard you while you sleep.’” What’s your read on this whole discussion about the Deep State with regard to the Trump administration?
MW: I would echo Matthew’s comments that he described what John Brennan said on his way out the door, not denying that there was evidence of collusion between Trump and the Russians. The less noticed aspect of what Clapper said on Sunday, he denied far more categorically that they had any evidence of collusion when he left.
JC: We did not include any evidence in our report, and I say our — that’s NSA, FBI, and CIA, with my office, the Director of National Intelligence — that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was evidence of that included in our report.
Chuck Todd: I understand that. But does it exist?
JC: Not to my knowledge.
MW: So you can go through January 20th both he and Brennan were gone, and at that point, there was no evidence that the IC had seen of any collusion between Trump and Russians with regards to the hack of the Democrats. One of the other things that I think is going on — I mean, there are two possibilities. One is there are things that are illegal, and there are things that are impeachable, and it is possible that the IC has determined unto itself that they believe there is impeachable stuff affecting Trump, whether it’s that he does business with a bunch of mobbed up Russians, whether it’s that he is favorable to a bunch of Russians in a way that stinks. And one of the things that feels like is happening that they’re pointing the way towards not any criminal charges against Trump, but towards impeachment. And I think Matthew’s right, but that’s a little bit dangerous for the CIA to make in the dark. These decisions are meant to be political decisions made by members of Congress.
And then the other thing that does need to be said is Trump ran on being friendly to Russia.
DJT: An easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia, from a position of strength only is possible, absolutely possible.
MW: Whether you like that policy or not, he was upfront about the fact that he wanted to be far friendlier to Russia than Obama had been, and that put his policy in a far more conciliatory position than CIA’s policies. At that level, I think it is possible what we’re seeing is a policy disagreement, that Trump is talking to Russia’s ambassador of the United States because they want to establish warmer relationships with Russia. But from the CIA’s perspective, that deems Russia this increasingly grand threat that is deemed suspect in a way that really, the evidence thus far doesn’t support.
MC: What would the grounds be for the impeachment? If they’re gathering that way, what would be the grounds to do it?
MW: Well, you know, I think the idea is that Trump is susceptible to blackmail by the Russians, or maybe this insinuation that he wants to be friendlier with the Russians because he has all these business deals with mobbed up Russian businessmen. I don’t know. I mean, but that’s what it feels like to me, is that the smoke is meant to sustain an impeachment. And, you know — and of course, that in and of itself is suspect ‘cause most Republicans would prefer to see Mike Pence as president than Donald Trump. And ultimately, impeachments are political events. I don’t know that the evidence is there, but I can see how Congress would get picked up in a frenzy and impeach Trump based on all this stuff coming out.
JS: One of the things that I think is very — that strikes a chord with me, Marcy, in what you’re saying is that I do think we are going to see, from certain quarters of the establishment, Republican Party, particularly people close to Dick Cheney, is more and more discussion about the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, and this idea that Trump could sort of be, you know, declared an invalid, basically, or Trump could decide that he just doesn’t want to be president anymore. And as you point out, Mike Pence is, for all practical purposes, Dick Cheney’s guy.
MC: You know, this administration is a pretty fascinating one because it’s a massive conflict. There is a fissure — tectonics plates that are rubbing up against each other between, you know, essentially Breitbart versus the RNC. The GOP establishment, which Pence represents: Priebus versus Bannon and Miller. And on the one side, the Breitbart side, you’ve got these guys coming in saying, “We’re gonna get rid of an entire layer of government.” I mean, this is Reaganism on steroids, which is we want no government, effectively. We want chaos. I mean, you know, I’ve seen some of Trump’s cronies defending him by saying, “this is what he does best. He does chaos. He brings it in, and then he manages the thing, and it’s brilliant.” And you almost wonder if he isn’t crazy like a fox, to a certain extent. And then you have the establishment guys. You have the hard line, old line, GOP, you know, Tillerson, Secretary of State Tillerson, is there because former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates recommended him, and so did former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and of course —
JS: Who also has a Chevron oil tanker named after her —
MC: Right. And — but Gates, Rice, and Hadley have a consulting company together. And they represent the, you know, to the extent that we’re describing it here, the Dick Cheney – George W. Bush — I mean, you know, the Bush 43 wing of the party. And they, of course, are, in terms of government, total professionals. Leave aside ideology, you know, just for a second. They are in fact professionals. And you have this Breitbart wing, which is the opposite. They campaigned on not being professionals. They want — they’re draining the swamp. And clearly it’s working, right? Even, you know, from week to week, the chaos that’s going on is phenomenal. It’s an amazing political civil war.
JS: Yeah. I want to close by talking about the issue of Yemen. I mean, first of all, just to step back and say that we’ve now seen more air strikes, whether drones or conventional aircraft, in just a matter of days by Donald Trump than we did in the entire last year of Obama’s presidency. And one of the things that I think is happening here — and I say I think, just as someone who’s followed this closely — is that it’s an attempt to justify that raid by saying, “We’re running the deck now. We’re gonna knock all of these guys out. And this is all based on the intel that we gathered, and therefore, the fact that we lost a Navy SEAL is justifiable because we’re just pounding the hell out of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula now.
Matthew Cole, I mean, again, I want to emphasize that’s a theory of mine. I’m not saying I have any evidence to suggest that. But I think it’s a solid theory. What’s your read on what’s happening now in Yemen with the Trump administration?
MC: They sold it. I know this. They sold the raid to him as this could be your Bin Laden raid, because they were going after somebody. It was not computers. You don’t send 30 members of SEAL Team 6 into a country that is not a declared war zone, for computers. It just doesn’t happen. And they said, “Hey, this could be your thing. You could really make a dent in al Qaeda and make a big splash early on, you know, like Bin Laden.” And in that sense, SEAL Team 6 is a brand, you know, the ultimate brand for a new president. I will say that we know from our own reporting that JSOC has been wanting to push into Yemen and increase their strikes and increase their raids against al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula for some time. And the Obama administration resisted. And to the extent that there was a new lease on life under the Trump administration so far, we are seeing it.
And that’s why there are reports coming out of the Trump White House considering delegating down the authority to conduct Special Operations raids and strikes in Yemen, for instance, without having to go up to the White House, as previously done in the Obama administration. And there’s no question, also, that subsequent to the raid, there’s been a huge effort by the administration to try to sell the thing as successful, and leaking out to Barbara Starr, of all people —
JS: The Pentagon spokesperson who masquerades as the CNN Pentagon correspondent.
MC: When Barbara Starr reports it, it’s a pretty good indication that you’re getting a Pentagon-approved story to help shift the narrative.
Barbara Starr: Vital intelligence that supports future victories. Some pretty key words there to watch, Jake. We should expect to see more missions like this.
MC: You know, I think that it’s possible that some of it is done to justify, but I do know that JSOC and the SEALs, in particular, the counterterrorism world inside the Pentagon, wanted to go into Yemen for the last year-and-a-half.
JS: And Marcy, you know, we also have the fact that the Saudis have been waging this scorched earth bombing with the support of the United States, despite what, various officials may say about their concern over the weapons that the Saudis are using, or the hitting of civilian targets. This is all being done and largely sponsored by the United States and the refueling of the planes, the providing of intelligence, the use of U.S. weapons systems. And you also have the fact that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is basically fighting two enemies on the ground inside of Yemen. They are fighting the southern Yemeni forces, but they’re also fighting the Houthis, which the United States claims to be trying to unseat in this proxy war between the Saudis, and to an increasing extent because of the war, Iran. You followed this covert/overt Yemen war from the very beginning stages of the Obama administration. Where — what do you think is important to be looking at right now?
MW: Both you and I have pointed to the many times in the past where the Saudis have been completely unreliable allies, or the Yemenis, although at this point, the Saudis are the ones running the show, where here’s a strike, here’s the intelligence to back a strike. And all of a sudden, somebody who’s actually a peace negotiator gets killed, rather than somebody who is really working for al Qaeda. We know in this raid that AQAP was tipped off, and they continued the raid anyway. And so, you know, I don’t think there has been enough attention on who tipped off AQAP about the raid, because that has happened over, and over, and over again, in Yemen.
And the other thing that I find really interesting, and I don’t know whether Matthew has insight on this, but — or you, Jeremy. But, you know, the role of Mattis in this, General Mattis, who Obama fired, as I understand it, partly because he was trying to pick a war with Iran. And so, he, A), I think, is responsible for pushing this raid that was ill thought out. But also, you know, he’s gotten more authority out of it. He’s about to be able to authorize his own strikes, which is something that Obama really tried hard to kind of micromanage. And so, I’m really curious about his role in all of this, his trying to prove that his more aggressive stance that Obama rejected will work, and to kind of prove himself for Trump. I don’t know if that’s going on.
JS: Well, let me ask, Matthew, you know, there has been this turf war that has flared up and gone down, depending on the administration and what actions are being authorized by the White House between the DOD, particularly Special Operations Forces within the DOD, and the CIA. Mattis was a former CENTCOM commander, and combatant commanders often do want to be viewed as — they used to be called the commanders-in-chief of their combatant command. And so what Marcy is saying, I think, does — it’s an interesting line to pursue, given that Mattis is of that system and also ran up against President Obama.
MC: We will see a power grab from Mattis, and we’ll see a pushing to go back to Bush 43 delegation of authorities to the Pentagon. And part of that is, I think — my read on that is actually, Mattis is doing what he sees as the most responsible thing, which is taking the decision away from the president and acting as a counterbalance from ultimately the commander-in-chief, who has the ultimate authority, but who, if willing to delegate some of that authority down, you’re giving it down from, you know, an impetuous teenager to an adult, even if it’s an adult who was once fired for trying to start a war with Iran. It may be —
JS: You’re not setting me at ease here, Matthew.
MC: It’s — well, you know — I don’t sleep at night anymore, which is why I have three cups of coffee every morning. But that’s my read, that Mattis is actually maybe one of the few adults in the room, and the cost of it is, is that he’s going to try to grab as much power as he can back from this White House.
MW: I think that brings us back to the question of the Deep State. When we’re — it may not be CIA that’s gonna rescue us from Donald Trump, but it might be the generals.
JS: Oh, lord. Okay. Well, I’ll dissent from you two wise sages on that one. Just finally, Marcy, what’s one story you think that people should be paying attention to that’s not getting coverage?
MW: One of the things that Democrats are doing, and they’re really pushing this Russian story because they believe it’s the short route to get rid of Donald Trump. And that comes at the cost of actually paying attention to what’s happening with his policies rolling out. There’s the immigrant ban, but especially the environmental things he’s doing. And I know — I mean, I’m in Michigan. I’m in the state that screwed you guys all over because we voted for Trump. But the response to his EPA funding, for example — he gutted the Great Lakes Initiative — has actually been really aggressive. And those are the things that I think are pissing people off way out here in flyover country. But there’s this big disjunct between what people in D.C. and New York want to talk about Trump, and what people who maybe are feeling these policies in a way that’s more direct are feeling, and the environmental policies, I think, are one of them.
JS: Matthew Cole, one story that’s not getting enough attention that you think should.
MC: Well, it’s North Korea. And it’s getting some attention, but it’s not getting enough. Because I think that North Korea is to Donald Trump what Iran was to President Obama when they came into office, which is the real hot button issue. And it’s worse because Iran, the accusation was that they were trying to get and create a nuclear bomb and weaponize one. And North Korea has nuclear bombs, and has improved their weapons and ballistics missiles technology. It was a little scary when Trump met Obama for the first time in that White House meeting shortly after the election, and it came out that the thing that scared the shit out of Donald Trump was whatever Obama told him about North Korea. There’s no such thing as too much coverage or attention being paid to the issue of North Korea right now.
JS: Matthew Cole, thanks for being with us.
MC: Thank you.
JS: Marcy Wheeler, thank you for joining us on Intercepted.
MW: Thank you.
JS: Marcy Wheeler joined us from Grand Rapids, Michigan. She runs the website emptywheel. And Matthew Cole is my colleague here at The Intercept. Coming up, we’re gonna dig into some of the details of this massive dump of CIA hacking documents released by WikiLeaks. And we’re gonna look at the realities facing undocumented immigrants in the U.S. now that Trump is in power. We’ll also hear a song from the punk band Anti-Flag. This is Intercepted. Stay with us.
JS: Okay, we’re back on Intercepted. I’m Jeremy Scahill. We turn now to the WikiLeaks publication of this humongous cache of internal CIA documents. We at The Intercept are still going through this initial batch. It’s more than 8,700 files, and WikiLeaks says there’s more to come. They’re all from the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Virginia. And according to WikiLeaks, contained within these files is the entire hacking capacity of the CIA. It’s important to note that these documents indicate that the CIA itself lost control over the secrecy of these documents connected to its own hacking operations, and unredacted versions of these files almost certainly are in the hands of other players in the United States, potentially around the world.
We’re gonna be covering this extensively in the days and weeks to come at The Intercept, but for an initial take on what some of these documents have to say about apps that we use, encrypted apps on our phone, like WhatsApp or Signal, and our personal so-called smart appliances that many people — or increasingly, people have in their houses, I’m joined by two of my colleagues, Josh Begley and Sam Biddle. Josh, welcome to the show.
Josh Begley: Thanks for having me.
JS: Sam Biddle is our first two-time guest. Welcome back to the podcast.
Sam Biddle: And may there be many more. Thanks.
JS: So, Sam, what’s the big takeaway for ordinary people, people that are not running around with classified documents or are not organizing terrorist attacks, but are, you know, ordinary people concerned about their privacy? What did we learn about the capabilities that the CIA and its allies have that could impact ordinary folks?
SB: So luckily, there doesn’t seem like there’s much so far in the documents suggesting any kind of targeting of a mass or blunt sweeping nature. You know, these are targeted attacks. They require some real effort and in some cases, legwork of actually, you know, plugging in a USB drive into a device the CIA wants to infect. Now, there are a lot of these attack methods, and they are very sophisticated. So, you know, this does provide more detail on what we sort of already knew about the CIA. And of course, the NSA does the same thing too.
JS: Right. And now, with like the — with the rise of Alexa and Amazon Echo and Siri, etc., and what they call the Internet of things, where you have these so-called smart TVs, what do the documents reveal to us about how the Internet of Things can cause serious problems for privacy?
SB: The example in the documents that stands out to me the most is an attack called Weeping Angel — that was the CIA code name for it — that targets Samsung smart TVs. Samsung is a giant of electronics manufacturing. They sell one of the most popular models of TVs every year. They’re in a lot of people’s living rooms and bedrooms. This method would trick Samsung TVs into basically being turned off. So the screen would be off, the lights would be off, but actually, the guts of the TV would remain on. And the microphone that is now in so many smart TVs for voice recognition controls would be rolling and would be recording, and then relaying that information back to a third party, presumably controlled by the CIA.
JS: So like, the ‘60s hippies who were saying, “Don’t have a TV. They use the TV to spy on you” — they actually may have been up to — you know, onto something?
SB: Well, yeah. I mean, that’s just the reality of buying electronics now in 2017, is that they are filled with things we don’t really want. It’s hard to find a TV or a streaming music speaker that doesn’t have a microphone or some sort of always on capability. And, you know, I think this is a really good example of not something that ordinary people need to be worried about, by any means, unless they’re, you know, meeting with Vladimir Putin in a hotel room with a Samsung TV in it. But this is just the reality now. If companies are going to build these gadgets that have microphones, the CIA is going to take advantage of it.
JS: Alexa, turn off Sam’s mic.
SB and JB: [Laughs]
JS: Alexa, turn on Josh Begley’s mic. Do these documents show that WhatsApp and Signal have been hacked?
JB: So, they do not. I’m still reading the documents, but for me, the biggest takeaway is that Signal works, and that you should use it, and unless you are a high value target of the CIA, anything you say will be just fine. I think that the main takeaway is also that in order to break so-called the encryption on Signal or WhatsApp, you have to have root access to the device, which is a very expensive thing. It’s a thing that agencies can do, but it costs them a lot of money.
JS: What — one of the things that we reported on, you and I, in 2015, in a piece that’s on theintercept.com called “The CIA Campaign to Steal Apple’s Secrets,” is what the CIA, NSA, GCHQ — the British intelligence equivalent of the NSA — that they were trying to access the actual firmware on the phone as a way of circumventing any kinds of protection. So talk about — because WikiLeaks framed this as basically that they have a way of working around the encryption of Signal in order to be able to read your encrypted communications. Well, what are some ways that we’ve learned that the CIA or other intelligence agencies are able to do that?
JB: The CIA, since before the Apple iPhone was announced, had been working on methods to crack Apple’s encryption and to be able to get inside of an iPhone or an iPad. Since 2005 or 2006, they have held annual secret jamborees held at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Virginia, where researchers would test out and sort of relay research showing different attempts to get inside of Xcode, and inside other parts of the Apple operating system that signs software. And effectively, the message is that since Apple has been making phones, the CIA has been trying to find ways to get inside of them. But this is not really possible in a sort of mass surveillance way. It’s only possible in a targeted way, because Apple’s encryption is pretty good. And Signal and WhatsApp also have very strong protocols. So the only way to really get inside of these apps is to hack the phone itself.
JS: I basically — and when I’m talking to relatives, family members who are writing to me today, saying, you know, “You got us to use that Signal, and now I’m reading that it was hacked” — the way I was sort of trying to explain it to my mom, for instance, is like, you can have five deadbolts on your door because you’re afraid of someone breaking into your house. But if the burglar is already there hiding somewhere, he’s gonna be able to steal your shit.
JB: Right. Yeah. This is basically like saying, “oh, someone can read your encrypted email if they’ve taken your laptop and know all your passwords.” And you know, it goes without saying that in a worst-case scenario, the precautions you take are going to be not worth a whole lot. But that doesn’t mean you should stop taking those precautions, you know. I think if anything, this — these disclosures today show why it’s important to take precautions because there are a lot of very sophisticated people out there, be they at the CIA or otherwise, trying to break these things. For all we know, the CIA has broken WhatsApp and Signal. WikiLeaks just hasn’t published any evidence supporting that. And until they have, or until someone has, we should use these tools.
JS: Sam Biddle, thanks for being with us.
SB: Of course.
JS: Josh Begley, thank you for your inaugural appearance on Intercepted.
JB: Thanks for having me.
JS: Alexa, we’re done.
JS: Josh Begley and Sam Biddle are both journalists at The Intercept. We have several articles up right now at theintercept.com analyzing various aspects of these WikiLeaks documents. Check them out at theintercept.com.
Donald J. Trump: And we must support the victims of crime. I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American victims. The office is called VOICE, Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement. We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media and silenced by special interests.
JS: That was Donald Trump last week, announcing his new initiative that’s supposedly intended to help victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. But many immigrant rights groups and activists denounced the announcement of VOICE, as Trump calls it, as a stunt, and a dangerous one at that, a stunt that reinforces the false notion that’s been promoted by Trump and his administration that there are somehow gangs of murderers and rapists and thugs roaming the country after illegally sneaking across the U.S. border.
DJT: Gang heads, gang members, killers.
JS: Now, there’s no doubt that undocumented immigrants commit crimes like documented immigrants or American citizens. But the very creation of this office and the fact that Trump promoted it at Congress, live address to the nation and to the world, and got praised for it by Democrats and Republicans alike, it was clearly aimed at justifying the widening attacks against immigrants that we’re seeing now in this country. I believe that what we’re seeing now is the beginning stages of Trump’s promised deportation offensive, his mass deportation offensive. And it’s being done under the guise of law and order and protecting real Americans.
I’m joined now by independent journalist Aura Bogado. She recently has been contributing to Teen Vogue, a magazine that actually has emerged as an important news organization. It’s not a joke. It’s true. Teen Vogue is now a very good publication on the very issues that we talk about on this show and that we cover at The Intercept. I’ve worked with Aura before. I’ve known her for many years, and it’s a pleasure to welcome Aura Bogado to Intercepted.
Aura Bogado: Thank you so much for having me, Jeremy.
JS: Okay, Aura. Let’s begin with this announcement that Trump made at his Congressional address that they’re establishing what they call VOICE, Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office. What was your reaction when you heard that?
AB: I mean it’s absolutely ludicrous. It was also ludicrous that the press sort of lauded him as a unifying president suddenly, and kind of missed this big part in which immigrants are once again being scapegoated. I was really troubled by the fact that he announced this sort of immediately after Adam Purinton shot and killed Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Kansas.
Reporter: Fifty-one-year-old Adam Purinton allegedly opened fire on Kuchibhotla and his friend Alok Madasani after witnesses say he shouted, “Get out of my country!”
AB: This gentleman was a victim. He was a victim of white supremacy in Kansas, yet the narrative has sort of been switched into, you know, having people think that immigrants are these horrible, horrible criminals. At the same time, another part that’s really troubling for me, as an immigrant myself, is the idea that we’re once again placed into this position in which we have to guarantee the public, we have to guarantee non-immigrants, that we’re not criminals. And it is, I think, really about scapegoating. It’s really scary to me that an office is now, you know, being established to specifically deal with this sort of imaginary problem.
JS: Well, now, you’ve covered this issue of the targeting of immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, and the mass deportations under Obama. And now, you know, we have, in one week, recently, you had 680 or so ICE raids. Is this a change in policy or an escalation under Trump, or is it a, as Trump sort of says, “Well, ICE is doing what it’s always done.”
AB: Under Trump, it is a big shift in policy, in that who is deemed a priority for detention and for deportation has changed. So ICE agents who were somewhat beholden to the Obama administration in the past have much more free reign under Trump. So now, anyone who’s not only been convicted, but done something for which they could be convicted, fall under the category of a person who’s detainable and deportable. And so that’s what we’re seeing now. You know, I would say that’s nothing short of a war on immigrants.
We have 23-year-old Daniel Ramirez who was taken by ICE while ICE was serving a warrant on his father. He’s in detention in Tacoma. He’s a DACA recipient. We have a group of men who were taken by ICE while they were leaving a homeless shelter in Virginia. No one knows where they are now. We have a 26-year-old woman, Sara Beltran-Hernandez. She’s originally from El Salvador. She has a brain tumor. She was awaiting an emergency operation in a hospital when she was detained by ICE. She was just released on bond. Most recently, a 22-year-old, Daniela Vargas, who was picked up by ICE immediately following a press conference in which she was, you know, vocally opposing deportations. She is now in detention in Louisiana. So what we know from the last month alone is that you can be picked up in your home while you’re hanging out with your family. You can be picked up while leaving a church where you were staying to keep warm. You can be picked up in a hospital while you’re awaiting a life-saving operation for your brain tumor. You can be picked up in the street just for talking about this. So there is a shift. There is a shift in priority.
I will say, though, that, you know, the architecture for all of this was certainly set up by the Obama administration. Obama, of course, introduced DACA, but even within that, there was this sort of narrative around the idea that some people were safe while others were not. So Obama famously pushed this “Felons, Not Families” narrative. He, you know, went on to say that several times. But the truth is that felons are families. That’s just the truth of the matter. Felons are part of families. So a lot of times, you have a family where one person may be a U.S.-born citizen. Another is a DACA recipient. Another may be convicted of something like robbing a liquor store and so forth. That’s a family. All of those people are in one family, right? Some are untouchable by ICE. Other have a sort of, at least under Obama, a temporary reprieve by DACA and weren’t being targeted. And others were the priority, the so-called felons, right? And that framing suspends the idea that people, human beings, regardless of their immigration status, are capable of redemption and rehabilitation.
And that’s how we got three million deportations under Obama, which is largely forgotten in all of this, right? There’s a lot of attention under — about DACA recipients, but what about their parents? What about their cousins? What about their uncles and aunts? That sort of remains to be seen, and that, I think has a lot to do with the way that the Obama administration framed deserving immigrants versus non-deserving immigrants.
JS: Memos that were released in the past couple of weeks, one of them called for a surge in immigration judges, and also for detention capabilities to be expanded. We also understand that some local police forces around the country are being told to clear spaces in their jails that would normally be used for criminals to now start housing people that are taken in some of these raids. And at the same time, you have Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, taking away the Obama era directives that were intended to end the use of private prisons. And upwards of 70 percent of immigration detainees are already housed in private prisons. So you’ve covered both the prison industrial complex and this, as you say, war against immigrants. What’s your analysis of these moves and their connectivity?
AB: Detention centers aren’t called prisons because immigration is technically a civil issue in the United States. They may have places in which people have been convicted of crimes, etc., but that’s why they’re detention centers and not prisons. The Obama directive was, you know, attempting to change a lot of that. And we see that a lot of detention centers are privatized and are — you know, do hold immigrants. And if you want to deport 11 million people, or even half of that — let’s say you want to deport five million people — it’s hard to just pick someone up and then drop them into another country. People need to be placed into detention for some period of time. The idea was that they would be there for a few days, maybe a couple of weeks, until they’re processed. We know that a lot of times, undocumented immigrants remain there for several weeks, or months, or even years, awaiting what an immigration judge is going to rule.
If you want to deport five million people, you’re going to need to create a lot more beds, right? Right now, there are about 40,000 beds in which you can hold immigrant detainees. How far are they going to try to expand that? Is it gonna be double? Is it gonna be triple? Either way, that doesn’t reach the even million mark. If the idea is like, oh, well, people are only gonna temporarily be housed here, I think that the standards may be drastically reduced to be like more like campgrounds, or places where people really shouldn’t be living, under the premise that, well, they’re gonna be, you know, scurried through very quickly.
JS: Right. And let’s remember, you know, how this is playing out in terms of the officials that Trump has put in these positions of power. You have, of course — we talked about Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. But then you have the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is a racist, and has shown himself to be an open and public policy racist. And you have a xenophobic General John Kelly, who is heading up the Department of Homeland Security. He was actually the head of the militarized solution to all of this when he was the commander of U.S. Southern Command. It’s not just like this is sort of Trump saying, “Let’s do this.” He’s actually put people in a position of power that have long had an agenda, privately and in their public policy positions, against immigrants.
Wolf Blitzer: If you get some young kids who are coming in — who manage to sneak into the United States with their parents, are Department of Homeland Security personnel gonna separate the children from their moms and dads?
John Kelly: We have tremendous experience in dealing with unaccompanied minors. We turn them over to HHS, and they do a very, very good job of either putting them in kind of foster care or linking them up with parents of family members in the United States. Yes, I am considering, in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network — I am considering exactly that. They will be well cared for as we deal with their parents.
AB: I mean, up and down, the entire administration, as you just pointed out, it’s just racist, after racist, after racist. People that have, you know, run publications, that have run commands, that have run, you know, campaigns that are just blatantly anti-immigrant, blatantly racist, on the record and off the record. And that is very much who is, I think, helping to craft these policies and will certainly help to enforce these policies. And so, you know, going back to your question earlier about like, is there a shift in policy? Again, I can definitely critique the Obama administration, but in terms of the tone — and maybe the tone isn’t the correct focus or word here, but in terms of the tone and, I think, the hatred, really, with which some of this is being thought out and implemented, it’s scary. This is different. This is very different.
JS: How are people resisting or fighting back in various immigrant communities across the country?
AB: I would say that in communities, in sort of the grassroots communities, small organizations, people are really, I think, coming up with creative ways of keeping tabs about where family members and certain community members are. There is a sort of growing, kind of underground network of people that are entering sanctuary. I think that there are conversations around who can house people in sanctuary, right? Like who can sort of afford in, you know, a certain city — who can afford to sort of have an immigrant or even up to an immigrant family in one of the rooms of their homes, etc.?
Another thing that I’ve been hearing more and more of is that, you know, that the designation of a sanctuary city is just — it’s a false facade for something that’s — it makes you think that you’re going to be safe. But there really sort of is no safety, particularly under this administration. Again, the priority for deportation is increasingly becoming anyone and everyone who’s undocumented. So even in that, even at its face value, I don’t know how valuable it’s gonna be during the Trump era.
JS: Well, that was one of the — I mean, first of all, I will say I was very heartened to see how many both grassroots organizers, but also ordinary people, went out to the — to airports across the country when Trump’s Muslim ban was put into effect. But one of the things that we saw happen was this overwhelming focus on certain people from Iraq, for instance, who had worked with the U.S. military as part of the occupation and military presence there as translators or fixers. And what it seems like is happening as a result of that, and John McCain and Lindsay Graham have been advocating this, is that they’re gonna say, “Oh, well, we’re gonna take Iraq off the list because we don’t want any of the people that collaborated with our military during these operations to be swept up in it.”
And I think that’s part of what you’re getting at, is that if you make arguments that are aimed at sort of the politicians in Washington rather than confronting the reality of what this means for people, it ends up being — you end up chasing the tail all the time. And that brings me to the question for you, like what should ordinary people be doing right now to confront Trump’s immigration policies, these raids, and the expansion of these private prisons?
AB: You know, I think a good first step might be to remember that every single person is a human being. I think that that, even for myself in the past in different circumstances, can be really helpful in terms of thinking who is redeemable and who is worth saving, and sort of responding to what’s happening now with that framework. Because what’s happening now can only happen when you dehumanize people to the point that they’re disposable; when you dehumanize people to the point where they can be held in detention, and no one knows what the next step is; when you dehumanize people to the point where they can be deported to another country which they’ve tried to escape from.
I think that a lot of this rests on dehumanization — everything from the VOICE program to the detentions and deportations — it all rests on the assumption that enough people are gonna go along with the idea that some people really aren’t human being enough. And I think that the best way to sort of combat that on an everyday and even on a small and large level is to remember that everybody, really is, everybody is a human being.
JS: Aura Bogado, thank you for your work, and thanks for being with us on Intercepted.
AB: Thank you so much, Jeremy.
JS: Aura Bogado is an independent journalist who most recently has been contributing to Teen Vogue.
To end today’s show, we turn to the Pittsburgh-based punk band Anti-Flag. Recently, they huddled in a garage and recorded an acoustic version of their song “Brandenburg Gate.” And they recorded it just for Intercepted.
Anti-Flag: Well, I lost my baby to a foreign war
She was cut down in the gunfire of the Western world
She was livin’ in sin, I was livin’ in a lie
She was caught up in the glimmer of a rich man’s eye
I couldn’t see her from the other side
They said, “Son, there is no glory in your pride.”
I will wait at the Brandenburg Gate
At the Brandenburg Gate, I’ll wait
I will wait at the Brandenburg Gate
At the Brandenburg Gate, I’ll wait, I’ll wait
Well, I lost my baby to a foreign war
She was cut down in the gunfire of the Western world
And she was
She was searching for salvation in the things you buy
I was finding all the reason to give up on life
If you love something, then give it away
It can’t come back unless you’re free
I will wait at the Brandenburg Gate
At the Brandenburg Gate, I’ll wait
I will wait at the Brandenburg Gate
At the Brandenburg Gate, I’ll wait
I’ll wait, I’ll wait, I’ll wait
Somewhere in the in between
Where the East and the West meet
In the 30-year war where I came clean
That’s where you will find me
I will wait at the Brandenburg Gate
At the Brandenburg Gate, I’ll wait
I’ll wait, I’ll wait, I’ll wait
I lost my baby to a foreign war
JS: Many thanks to our friends from Anti-Flag. That was a performance of their song “Brandenburg Gate.”
JS: That does it for this week’s show. Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. We’re distributed by Panoply. Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro, and our executive producer is Leital Molad. Rick Kwan mixed the show. We had production assistance from Elise Swain. Our music was composed by DJ Spooky. And special thanks to Anthony Atamanuik, who, as always, stars as Donald Trump on Intercepted. As we’ve said before, and I’ll say it again, we are a new show. We need your support. Tell your friends. Tell your foes. Go onto iTunes, Google Play — wherever you do such things. Give us a rating if you feel so inclined. Even better, give us a review. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.
JS: All right, all right. Sh. Okay, now, it’s finished. There’s nothing else funny.