Federal records show that the intelligence community secretly revised the formal whistleblower complaint form in August 2019 to eliminate the requirement of direct, first-hand knowledge of wrongdoing.
Between May 2018 and August 2019, the intelligence community secretly eliminated a requirement that whistleblowers provide direct, first-hand knowledge of alleged wrongdoings. This raises questions about the intelligence community’s behavior regarding the August submission of a whistleblower complaint against President Donald Trump. The new complaint document no longer requires potential whistleblowers who wish to have their concerns expedited to Congress to have direct, first-hand knowledge of the alleged wrongdoing that they are reporting.
The brand new version of the whistleblower complaint form, which was not made public until after the transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and the complaint addressed to Congress were made public, eliminates the first-hand knowledge requirement and allows employees to file whistleblower complaints even if they have zero direct knowledge of underlying evidence and only “heard about [wrongdoing] from others.”
The internal properties of the newly revised “Disclosure of Urgent Concern” form, which the intelligence community inspector general (ICIG) requires to be submitted under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA), show that the document was uploaded on September 24, 2019, at 4:25 p.m., just days before the anti-Trump complaint was declassified and released to the public. The markings on the document state that it was revised in August 2019, but no specific date of revision is disclosed.
The complaint alleges that President Donald Trump broke the law during a phone call with the Ukrainian president. In his complaint, which was dated August 12, 2019, the complainant acknowledged he was “not a direct witness” to the wrongdoing he claims Trump committed.
A previous version of the whistleblower complaint document, which the ICIG and DNI until recently provided to potential whistleblowers, declared that any complaint must contain only first-hand knowledge of alleged wrongdoing and that complaints that provide only hearsay, rumor, or gossip would be rejected.
“The [Intelligence Community Inspector General] cannot transmit information via the ICPWA based on an employee’s second-hand knowledge of wrongdoing,” the previous form stated under the bolded heading “FIRST-HAND INFORMATION REQUIRED.” “This includes information received from another person, such as when an employee informs you that he/she witnessed some type of wrongdoing.”
“If you think that wrongdoing took place, but can provide nothing more than second-hand or unsubstantiated assertions, [the Intelligence Community Inspector General] will not be able to process the complaint or information for submission as an ICWPA,” the form concluded.
Markings on the previous version of the Disclosure of Urgent Concern form show that it was formally approved on May 24, 2018. Here is that original Disclosure of Urgent Concern form prior to the August 2019 revision:
Here is the revised Disclosure of Urgent Concern form following the August 2019 revision:
The Ukraine call complaint against Trump is riddled not with evidence directly witnessed by the complainant, but with repeated references to what anonymous officials allegedly told the complainant: “I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials,” “officials have informed me,” “officials with direct knowledge of the call informed me,” “the White House officials who told me this information,” “I was told by White House officials,” “the officials I spoke with,” “I was told that a State Department official,” “I learned from multiple U.S. officials,” “One White House official described this act,” “Based on multiple readouts of these meetings recounted to me,” “I also learned from multiple U.S. officials,” “The U.S. officials characterized this meeting,” “multiple U.S. officials told me,” “I learned from U.S. officials,” “I also learned from a U.S. official,” “several U.S. officials told me,” “I heard from multiple U.S. officials,” and “multiple U.S. officials told me.”
The repeated references to information the so-called whistleblower never witnessed clearly run afoul of the original ICIG requirements for “urgent concern” submissions. The change to the “urgent concern” submission form was first highlighted on Twitter by researcher Stephen McIntyre.
The complainant also cites publicly available news articles as proof of many of the allegations.
“I was not a direct witness to most of the events” characterized in the document, the complainant confessed on the first page of his August 12 letter, which was addressed to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the respective chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees. Hearsay is generally inadmissible as evidence in U.S. federal and state courts since it violates the constitutional requirement that the accused be given the opportunity to question his accusers.
The anti-Trump complaint also made several false claims that have been directly refuted and debunked. While the complaint alleged that Trump demanded that Ukraine physically return multiple servers potentially related to ongoing investigations of foreign interference in the 2016 elections, the transcript of the call between Trump and Zelensky shows that such a request was never made.
The complainant also falsely alleged that Trump told Zelensky that he should keep the current prosecutor general at the time, Yuriy Lutsenko, in his current position in the country. The transcript showed that exchange also did not happen.
Additionally, the complaint falsely alleged that T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, a U.S. State Department official, was a party to the phone call between Trump and Zelensky.
“I was told that a State Department official, Mr. T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, also listened in on the call,” the complaint alleged. Shortly after the complaint was released, CBS News reported that Brechbuhl was not on the phone call.
In a legal opinion that was released to the public along with the phone call transcript, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) determined that the complainant’s submission was statutorily deficient and therefore was not required to be submitted to Congress. The White House nonetheless declassified and released the document to Congress late Wednesday evening.
“The complaint does not arise in connection with the operation of any U.S. government intelligence activity, and the alleged misconduct does not involve any member of the intelligence community,” the September 3 OLC opinion noted. “Rather, the complaint arises out of a confidential diplomatic communication between the President and a foreign leader that the intelligence-community complainant received secondhand.”
“The question is whether such a complaint falls within the statutory definition of “urgent concern” that the law requires the DNI to forward to the intelligence committees,” the OLC opinion continued. “We conclude that it does not.”
It is not known precisely when the August 2019 revision to the whistleblower complaint form was approved, nor is it known which, if any, version of the Disclosure of Urgent Concern form the complainant completed prior to addressing his complaint to Congress.
Reached by phone on Friday afternoon, a Director of National Intelligence official refused to comment on any questions about the secret revision to the whistleblower form, including when it was revised to eliminate the requirement of first-hand knowledge and for what reason.
By The Hill•
Behind the scenes, some major events were set in motion last autumn that could soon change the tenor in Washington, at least as it relates to the debunked Russia collusion narrative that distracted America for nearly three years.
It was in September 2018 that President Trump told my Hill.TV colleague Buck Sexton and me that he would order the release of all classified documents showing what the FBI, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and other U.S. intelligence agencies may have done wrong in the Russia probe.
About the same time, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, under then-Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), voted unanimously to send 53 nonpublic transcripts of witnesses in its Russia review to the director of national intelligence (DNI) for declassification. The transcripts were officially delivered in November.
Now, nearly a year later, neither release has happened.
To put that into perspective, it took just a couple of months in 2004 to declassify the final report on the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks after a presidential commission finished its work, which contained some of the nation’s most secretive intelligence revelations.
But the long wait for transparency may soon end.
The foot-dragging inside the intelligence community (IC) that occurred under now-departed DNI Dan Coats and his deputy, Sue Gordon, could halt abruptly. That’s particularly true if Trump appoints a new IC sheriff, such as former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the current ambassador to the Netherlands, or longtime national security expert Fred Fleitz.
Likewise, the president has an opportunity to speed up and organize the release of declassified information by simply creating an Office of Transparency and Accountability inside his own White House, run by a staffer empowered at the level of a formal assistant to the president. That would prevent intelligence agencies from continuing their game of public keep-away.
Nunes, who helped to unravel the Russia collusion farce, has identified five buckets of information he’d like to see released. One of those buckets, the FBI’s interview reports on Bruce Ohr’s cooperation, was released last week — not through a Trump declassification order but, rather, through litigation brought by Judicial Watch, and with heavy redactions.
My reporting, including interviews with four dozen U.S. officials over the last several months, actually identifies a much larger collection of documents — about a dozen all together — that, when declassified, would show more completely how a routine counterintelligence probe was hijacked to turn the most awesome spy powers in America against a presidential nominee in what was essentially a political dirty trick orchestrated by Democrats.
Here are the documents that have the greatest chance of rocking Washington, if declassified:
1.) Christopher Steele’s confidential human source reports at the FBI. These documents, known in bureau parlance as 1023 reports, show exactly what transpired each time Steele and his FBI handlers met in the summer and fall of 2016 to discuss his anti-Trump dossier. The big reveal, my sources say, could be the first evidence that the FBI shared sensitive information with Steele, such as the existence of the classified Crossfire Hurricane operation targeting the Trump campaign. It would be a huge discovery if the FBI fed Trump-Russia intel to Steele in the midst of an election, especially when his ultimate opposition-research client was Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The FBI has released only one or two of these reports under Freedom of Information Act lawsuits and they were 100 percent redacted. The American public deserves better.
2.) The 53 House Intel interviews. House Intelligence interviewed many key players in the Russia probe and asked the DNI to declassify those interviews nearly a year ago, after sending the transcripts for review last November. There are several big reveals, I’m told, including the first evidence that a lawyer tied to the Democratic National Committee had Russia-related contacts at the CIA.
3.) The Stefan Halper documents. It has been widely reported that European-based American academic Stefan Halper and a young assistant, Azra Turk, worked as FBI sources. We know for sure that one or both had contact with targeted Trump aides like Carter Page and George Papadopoulos at the end of the election. My sources tell me there may be other documents showing Halper continued working his way to the top of Trump’s transition and administration, eventually reaching senior advisers like Peter Navarro inside the White House in summer 2017. These documents would show what intelligence agencies worked with Halper, who directed his activity, how much he was paid and how long his contacts with Trump officials were directed by the U.S. government’s Russia probe.
4.) The October 2016 FBI email chain. This is a key document identified by Rep. Nunes and his investigators. My sources say it will show exactly what concerns the FBI knew about and discussed with DOJ about using Steele’s dossier and other evidence to support a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant targeting the Trump campaign in October 2016. If those concerns weren’t shared with FISA judges who approved the warrant, there could be major repercussions.
5.) Page/Papadopoulos exculpatory statements. Another of Nunes’s five buckets, these documents purport to show what the two Trump aides were recorded telling undercover assets or captured in intercepts insisting on their innocence. Papadopoulos told me he told an FBI undercover source in September 2016 that the Trump campaign was not trying to obtain hacked Clinton documents from Russia and considered doing so to be treason. If he made that statement with the FBI monitoring, and it was not disclosed to the FISA court, it could be another case of FBI or DOJ misconduct.
6.) The ‘Gang of Eight’ briefing materials. These were a series of classified briefings and briefing books the FBI and DOJ provided key leaders in Congress in the summer of 2018 that identify shortcomings in the Russia collusion narrative. Of all the documents congressional leaders were shown, this is most frequently cited to me in private as having changed the minds of lawmakers who weren’t initially convinced of FISA abuses or FBI irregularities.
7.) The Steele spreadsheet. I wrote recently that the FBI kept a spreadsheet on the accuracy and reliability of every claim in the Steele dossier. According to my sources, it showed as much as 90 percent of the claims could not be corroborated, were debunked or turned out to be open-source internet rumors. Given Steele’s own effort to leak intel in his dossier to the media before Election Day, the public deserves to see the FBI’s final analysis of his credibility. A document I reviewed recently showed the FBI described Steele’s information as only “minimally corroborated” and the bureau’s confidence in him as “medium.”
8.) The Steele interview. It has been reported, and confirmed, that the DOJ’s inspector general interviewed the former British intelligence operative for as long as 16 hours about his contacts with the FBI while working with Clinton’s opposition research firm, Fusion GPS. It is clear from documents already forced into the public view by lawsuits that Steele admitted in the fall of 2016 that he was desperate to defeat Trump, had a political deadline to make his dirt public, was working for the DNC/Clinton campaign and was leaking to the news media. If he told that to the FBI and it wasn’t disclosed to the FISA court, there could be serious repercussions.
9.) The redacted sections of the third FISA renewal application. This was the last of four FISA warrants targeting the Trump campaign; it was renewed in June 2017 after special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe had started and signed by then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. It is the one FISA application that House Republicans have repeatedly asked to be released, and I’m told the big reveal in the currently redacted sections of the application is that it contained both misleading information and evidence of intrusive tactics used by the U.S. government to infiltrate Trump’s orbit.
10.) Records of allies’ assistance. Multiple sources have said a handful of U.S. allies overseas — possibly Great Britain, Australia and Italy — were asked to assist FBI efforts to check on Trump connections to Russia. Members of Congress have searched recently for some key contact documents with British intelligence. My sources say these documents might help explain Attorney General William Barr’s recent comments that “the use of foreign intelligence capabilities and counterintelligence capabilities against an American political campaign, to me, is unprecedented and it’s a serious red line that’s been crossed.”
Since Trump took office, of course.
Was there ever a time when Americans had unquestioning faith in federal law-enforcement agencies? Maybe in the days before Vietnam and Watergate, most citizens did believe that those in charge of the nation’s fate could be trusted. Before World War II, the FBI’s formidable public-relations machine actually produced a popular radio and television program lauding its efforts “in peace and war.” After the war, when the CIA became the country’s first full-time foreign-intelligence agency, few Americans understood much about what it was doing, and what little they did know was colored by the government’s propaganda efforts.
But ever since the upheaval of the late 1960s and early 1970s seemed to make cynicism about government our new national pastime, the notion that the intelligence community is above politics has been as outdated as the adulation once accorded to J. Edgar Hoover. It’s in that context that we should understand the recent debate about whether it’s appropriate to scrutinize the CIA and FBI’s role in the origins of the Russia probe. Though Democrats are now treating criticism of federal law enforcement as beyond the pale, their newfound faith is every bit as partisan as Republicans’ newfound skepticism. A sober look at the history of the past few decades reveals that, to paraphrase Clausewitz, in Washington, intelligence has always been a matter of politics by other means.
Attorney General William Barr’s decision to launch an investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation has caused some predicable anger among Democrats and other Trump-administration critics. This discomfort stems from what they regard as an attempt to flip the narrative from Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia to a dubious decision by the FBI to begin spying on the political opponents of Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration.
Given the failure of the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to prove the collusion allegations, Barr’s attempt to determine whether the unprecedented probe of a presidential campaign was an abuse of power seems reasonable. But Barr’s decision is a huge problem for Democrats who are hoping to pursue the impeachment of Trump by picking up the case that Mueller failed to make after two years of effort.
So we saw CNN crime-and-justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz this week telling host Don Lemon that it is “troubling” that the Department of Justice is questioning the work of CIA agents. “You don’t do this,” Prokupecz said. “The CIA kind of operates in their own world.” Indeed the CIA does, but that never stopped Democrats or the press from going all out to probe its activities as long as said activities were perceived to further their opponents’ political agenda.
Prokupecz and the House Democrats who are rushing to the barricades to defend the actions of former CIA director John Brennan at the beginning of the Mueller probe are acting as if the agency’s reputation has never before been called into question. Some of them may be too young to have experienced the political ferment of the 1970s and’80s, in which congressional committees led by Democrats such as Frank Church and Otis Pike conducted far-reaching investigations that embarrassed the intelligence establishment. But surely they have some memory of the debates about intelligence after the 9/11 attacks and the heated run-up to George W. Bush’s Iraq War. The only difference between those episodes and this one is that the political parties have switched sides.
In the past, it was Republicans defending the FBI and the CIA against Democrats’ charges that these agencies were out of control. But since the summer of 2016, when the intelligence establishment seemed to join forces to raise alarms about Russian meddling in the presidential election and, more important, to raise concerns about untrue allegations of Trump-campaign collusion in that meddling, Democrats have acted as if Langley and Quantico are beyond reproach.
Once Trump started criticizing the intelligence agencies’ consensus about Russians’ election interference, and then after it became known that the FBI and CIA had begun probing his campaign in the summer of 2016, Democrats became unstinting in their defense of the agencies. By contrast, Republicans who had been stalwart CIA and FBI defenders suddenly became bitter critics, demanding transparency and sometimes floating the same sort of conspiracy theories about the intelligence community’s activities that used to be the province of the Left.
Sensible people of either party will always seek to mix deference to the intelligence community’s mission, which often requires a fair degree of secrecy, with an understanding that all government officials and agencies must be kept on a tight leash lest they abuse the awesome power vested in them.
To those who have followed past controversies involving the FBI and CIA, it should seem entirely plausible that some federal law-enforcement agents could let their distaste for Trump get the better of them. That Democrats no longer care and Republicans suddenly do testifies to the fact that in Washington, most things always boil down to politics.
by Natalie Johnson • Washington Free Beacon
Europe serves as a “launching pad” for ISIS jihadists to initiate attacks against the United States due to the absence of a cohesive information-sharing strategy among Western nations, former acting CIA director John McLaughlin said Wednesday.
McLaughlin, a 30-year CIA employee who served as acting director under the George W. Bush administration, warned that the absence of effective coordination between European intelligence agencies exposes the United States to greater risk of attack.
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, McLaughlin said the Trump administration must work with European allies to establish an intelligence-sharing platform that coordinates Europe’s extensive network of security services. Continue reading
by Morgan Chalfant • Washington Free Beacon
Criminal and terrorist networks are evolving “out of view” of U.S. intelligence and increasingly cooperating to achieve their goals, according to a new document from the U.S. military that calls for a better coordinated effort between the Pentagon and other government agencies to counter threat networks.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for the United States to deter threats from transnational networks such as terrorist organizations and groups trafficking illicit goods, according to the document from the Joint Chiefs of Staff published in late December.
The Joint Publication 3-25, which was recently highlighted by the Federation of American Scientists, evaluated the United States’ efforts to counter networks threatening U.S. interests at home and abroad, calling for more interagency work and partnerships with international organizations and allies to deter them. Continue reading
By Russ Read • The Daily Caller
The head of U.S. intelligence believes that Iran’s recent actions speak loudly to its intentions, particularly given the country’s recent provocations since the Iran nuclear deal came into effect.
Testifying to the Senate Committee on Armed Services Tuesday, director of national intelligence James Clapper gave a very somber description of what he sees as Iran’s intentions toward the U.S. now that last summer’s nuclear deal has commenced. In particular, his statements offered little assurance that Iran is acting as an honest actor with the U.S. and the other states involved in last year’s negotiations, or that the nuclear deal will stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“Iran probably views JCPOA [Iran deal] as a means to remove sanctions while preserving nuclear capabilities, as well as the option to eventually expand its nuclear infrastructure,” said Clapper, who also noted that, so far, he sees no evidence that Iran is violating the nuclear deal. Continue reading
It’s happening again. A White House fumbling with the violent mess of Iraq finds itself surrounded by mounting accusations that it’s played dirty games with intelligence. A Pentagon facing charges that its analysts have skewed assessments on Iraq to tell top policymakers what they want to hear, rather than what is really happening in that troubled country.
If this sounds terribly familiar, it should. Only a dozen years after the George W. Bush White House was buffeted by allegations that it had “cherry-picked” intelligence to justify its 2003 invasion of Iraq, Barack Obama is facing similar accusations. Intelligence Community analysts alleged that, in the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, they were pressured to exaggerate Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. Now, analysts claim that they have been pushed to present Obama’s war against the Islamic State as more successful than it really is. Continue reading