US president Donald Trump alleged that phones in Trump Tower had been ‘wiretapped’. The White House media spokesperson then named GCHQ as the culprit. But the British intelligence-gathering agency strongly denied this. However it did not elaborate on how the National Security Agency (NSA) can actually utilise GCHQ’s facilities to monitor any citizen it likes. Nor did the UK or US intelligence statements defend their vast surveillance mechanisms. Meanwhile, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden had some interesting comments on the matter.
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UPDATE: Republican chairman Devin Nunes admitted that “We know there was not a physical wiretap at Trump Tower. However it is possible that other surveillance technology was used against President Trump and his associates”.
For a longer quote by Edward Snowden on the NSA, Trump and surveillance, see below.
“So the main thing that this boils down to are word games. When people in government assert that the NSA would never collect communications on an American, any American, whether they’re a president, or a congressman, or whatever, without a warrant, they are lying. In the plain use of language, right, what “collects” means to you and me, right, that something travels across the phone line, that something travels across an internet line. They pick it up, they save it, and they drop it in their database. That happens to everyone right now. It does not matter whether you’re the president. It doesn’t matter whether you’re congress, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a judge, it doesn’t matter whether you’re an accountant, a lawyer. It doesn’t matter whether it’s you sitting in the room right now. These things happen by default. That’s how, of course, the system of surveillance works.
Because when you pick up the phone, right, there’s not a little flag associated with it that says, oh, this person’s the president, this person’s a congressman. You can manually go in and set up filters that say, you know, don’t collect on this number, that number, or whatever. But that’s not really how it works. On the backend, there’s a little bit of things like that. But what’s happening is these intelligence agencies, these lawyers at the DOJ for the president, they’re saying something different. They’re saying, to them, “collect” doesn’t mean that we copied your communications, that we put it in the bucket, and that we saved it, in case we want to look at it. To them, “collect” means that they take it out of the bucket and actually look at it and read it.
Now, if you are an American citizen and they say, “I want to look at your communications. I want to listen to this person’s phone calls and everyone they contacted,” this in theory is supposed to require a warrant. But the actual reality here is that they can do something different, and they do do this without a warrant. But if you’re in that bucket and you don’t have a U.S. passport, you know, you’re not a U.S. citizen, no Social Security card. You don’t have a green card, so you’re not sort of legally privileged as a U.S. person, even if you’re not technically a U.S. citizen, they can’t, what they say, target you directly. But if they look at the other side of that communication, right? The communication that went overseas or involved a non-U.S. person in any way, that’s entirely legal. That happens without a warrant.
And they don’t even have to be targeting a person, right? They don’t have to be going, “Oh, I want to know who this person was talking to on the other side in Pakistan. I’m gonna pull all their phone calls.” And oh, in there, it happens to be Jeremy Scahill. Or, oh, you know, I’m calling the Moscow Escort Service, or whatever. Donald Trump is their prime customer. So we get his phone call from there. No, no, no. It doesn’t require that. They can be targeting a machine. They can be targeting a server. They can be targeting a system. They can be targeting the desktop machine. Anywhere in the world, a router — and all of those communications that it’s passing, right, that include your communications, include my communications, that include people from Congress and the president just the same. All of those are in there, and they get displayed in response to the query.”