Did Obama wiretap Trump? How wiretap has changed from 1972 to 2017

Frank Willis, 24, a minimum wage security guard working the midnight to 8:00 a.m shift, caught five guys trying to install a wiretap on someone’s phone at the Watergate building in Washington, DC.   It was 1972 and the White House was trying to figure out who was leaking White House information to the press.  The guys hired to fix that leak, called “The Plumbers” got caught installing the wiretap and it eventually brought down Republican President Richard Nixon.

45 years later, President Donald Trump is trying to fix a White House leak of his own.

A 24-year old technology may bring down the legacy of Democrat President Barack Obama.  It’s no longer a world where wiretap is done by sneaking into buildings under the dark of night with wires, and clips.  24 years ago, under a law signed by President Clinton, phone companies were mandated to have the capability to wiretap anyone’s phone on demand when presented with a court order to do so.

The law, known as the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) is another government mandate with a catchy acronym.  If a phone company wants to do business in the United States they must have the capability to wiretap their customers.  Failure to do so can mean a fine of $10,000 per day to the phone company.  The FBI is the group responsible for making sure the phone industry created the system.

How does wiretap work in this country?  Donald Trump is alleging that his phone was wiretapped by Obama during the election.  Is this possible?  What is his evidence?  Let’s look at this.

How does wiretap work?  Every phone company in the US must have a “Lawfully Authorized Electronic Surveillance” system (LAES for those who love those acronyms.).  All they have to do to start a wiretap is enter the phone number they want to tap into a terminal and turn it on.

Every time someone calls that phone number or anytime that phone number calls someone, a conference call is automatically created and one leg of that conference call goes to law enforcement.

Easy as pie.  Undetectable.  Automatic. 

There is no sneaking into buildings will alligator clips, wires and radio transmitters.  It’s all done at the phone company miles away and delivered anywhere in the world automatically.  A little too easy?  What stops abuse of the system?  (Funny, that’s what we asked law enforcement in meetings 24 years ago.)

So to answer the first question – Is what Donald Trump claims even possible?  Yes.  Not only is it possible.. it’s routine.

Second question.  Where’s the evidence?  Every cell phone and landline phone company in the country had to set up a department to handle wiretap requests and turn them on and off.  The vast majority of those wiretaps are clear cut and necessary.  75% of wiretaps are authorized for drug conspiracies.

A law enforcement agency goes to a judge and requests a wiretap.  They need to convince the judge that they have no other way to complete their investigation.  Wiretap is considered the “investigative tool of last resort.”

If the judge is convinced he grants law enforcement permission to wiretap a specific phone number for a specific period of time and request that they report back to him every ten days or so to see if the wiretap should continue.

In 2015, Judges were convinced that wiretap were necessary 4,148 times.  The court order is brought to the phone company’s legal compliance department who implements the wiretap.  Law enforcement tells them where to send the “copy” of the call (that conference bridge that they can listen to.)

The phone companies don’t record the information, they only deliver it.  How do we find out if there was a court order on Donald Trump?  Just figure out who’s Donald Trump’s phone provider?  Verizon?  Sprint?  AT&T?  They’ll have a court order in their file authorizing them to turn on the wiretap.

So the answer to the second question, “What evidence does Donald Trump have?”  – We haven’t been told, but if he has something, it’s a court order showing that his phone number was authorized by a judge for wiretap.

That’s not likely going to be some circuit court judge in New York City who signed an order for the FBI to investigate Donald Trump.  It’s more likely a court order from the FISA court (those acronyms again…FISA is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA),  It created a new Federal Court that reviews requests for surveillance warrants against foreign spies inside the United States by federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies.)

CNN describes the FISA court as “the most powerful court you have never heard of — operating out of a bunker-like complex blocks from the Capitol and the White House — sealed tightly to prevent eavesdropping.  The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — or FISA Court for short — is a panel that critics contend rubber-stamps nearly every National Security Agency request to snoop that it receives.”

Reports show that in October of 2016, the FBI sought, and was granted, a FISA court warrant to examine the activities of ‘U.S. persons’ in Donald Trump’s campaign with ties to Russia.  The FBI claimed to the FISA court that a server, possibly related to the Trump campaign, had links to two banks – SVB Bank and Russia’s Alfa Bank. The FISA warrant was granted.

Andrew McCarthy of the National Review said, no evidence is found — but the wiretaps continue, ostensibly for national security reasons.

It’s technical easy for Donald Trump’s phones to have been wiretapped.  It’s not known what evidence that Donald Trump has that shows that the wiretap was done.  Frank Willis wasn’t there, but maybe Edward Snowden or WikiLeaks was.

[Feature Photo: AP/Cliff Owen]