The Attorney General William Barr caused quite a stir the other day when he concluded the government had been engaged in spying. The sentence that generated the outrage was this: “I believe the government spied on the Trump campaign.”
His statement led to another round of commentators arguing that this was merely surveillance not spying. But in a recent article in The Hill Kevin Brock explains that even attempting to make a semantic difference misses what was done. He should know since he is the former assistant director of intelligence for the FBI and served as an FBI special agent for 24 years and was the principal deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center.
He explains that what was unleashed on an American citizen was without precedent. The FISA surveillance “allows the clandestine microphone and camera capture of the target at all times and in all places, even the most intimate, of his daily life. It is more intrusive than even a Title III criminal wiretap for a drug dealer or mob boss.”
There really is a major difference between spying and FISA court-ordered surveillance. “It is the epitome of government power over an individuals’ privacy. It is the nuclear option in the world of intelligence collection.”
He also reminds us that the government only uses such an option when surveilling foreign nationals who have been spying on US interests or sometimes for US citizens who hold security clearances and possess national security information that might be turned over to another country. It has never been used by an FBI director and deputy director to intercept an individual with no clearance and no obvious access to sensitive information.
Please remember this the next time you hear someone reject the idea that the government was spying on the Trump campaign and suggesting that it was only surveillance.