Recently, US Attorney General Bill Barr indicated that the Obama-era intelligence community’s initial response to and handling of the probe into allegations that Russia was interfering with the 2016 presidential election may have been unethical.
Barr called the behavior “interesting,” noting that the probe “wasn’t handled in the ordinary way that investigations or counterintelligence activities are conducted,” and pointing out that it appears a “small group” handled the investigation early on.
“I think there’s a misconception out there that we know a lot about what happened,” Barr said. “The fact of the matter is, Bob Mueller did not look at the government’s activities.”
Now, speculation on events during the last days of the Obama administration implies that “very senior level” officials within the CIA, FBI, and NSA potentially left then-President Obama and others in the dark as to their operations.
Comments made by Attorney General William Barr about extraordinary arrangements regarding the original handling of the Russia investigation may take on more significance in light of a previous report showing a high and unusual degree of compartmentalization in the Obama-era intelligence community’s initial intel set up of the Russia probe.
In an interview with Fox News that aired Friday, Barr commented that the intelligence community’s early handling of the Russia investigation may raise questions. He noted it was first handled at a “very senior level” and then by a “small group.”
“The thing that’s interesting about this is that this was handled at a very senior level of these departments. It wasn’t handled in the ordinary way that investigations or counterintelligence activities are conducted. It was sort of an ad hoc, small group — and most of these people are no longer with the FBI or the CIA or the other agencies involved. I think there’s a misconception out there that we know a lot about what happened. The fact of the matter is, Bob Mueller did not look at the government’s activities.”
Deep inside a 7,700-plus word Washington Post article published June 23, 2017, the newspaper detailed the highly compartmentalized nature of the original Russia interference investigation and the manner in which other U.S. intelligence agencies were deliberately kept in the dark.
According to the newspaper, in the summer of 2016, CIA Director John Brennan convened a “secret task force at CIA headquarters composed of several dozen analysts and officers from the CIA, the NSA and the FBI.”
The Post described the unit as so secretive it functioned as a “sealed compartment” hidden even from the rest of the U.S. intelligence community; a unit whose workers were all made to sign additional non-disclosure forms.
The unit reported to top officials, the newspaper documented:
They worked exclusively for two groups of “customers,” officials said. The first was Obama and fewer than 14 senior officials in government. The second was a team of operations specialists at the CIA, NSA and FBI who took direction from the task force on where to aim their subsequent efforts to collect more intelligence on Russia.
The number of Obama administration officials who were allowed access to the Russia intelligence was also highly limited, The Post reported. At first only four senior officials were involved: Brennan, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and then-FBI Director James Comey. Their aides were all barred from attending the initial meetings, The Post stated.
The newspaper continued :
Gradually, the circle widened to include Vice President Biden and others. Agendas sent to Cabinet secretaries — including John F. Kerry at the State Department and Ashton B. Carter at the Pentagon — arrived in envelopes that subordinates were not supposed to open. Sometimes the agendas were withheld until participants had taken their seats in the Situation Room.
Adding another layer of secrecy, the newspaper reported that when the closed Cabinet sessions on Russia began in the White House Situation Room in August, the video feed from the main room was cut off during the meetings.
The feed, which allows only for video and not audio, is usually kept on so that senior aides can see when a meeting takes place.
The paper reported:
The blacked-out screens were seen as an ominous sign among lower-level White House officials who were largely kept in the dark about the Russia deliberations even as they were tasked with generating options for retaliation against Moscow.
The compartmentalization may help to explain why it was only Brennan’s CIA, Comey’s FBI and the NSA that penned the January 6, 2017 U.S. Intelligence Community report alleging Russian interference in the presidential race. Numerous news media reports originally falsely claimed the report was authored by all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies.