I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means: The IG Report

So, for months now (and when I say months, I mean months) the Conservative blogosphere has been insisting that the truth will be revealed and we'll find out what the Deep State was really up to when the Inspector General's Report comes out. It'll all make sense then.

Well, it finally dropped and... It's not nothing, which is what most of cable news seems to be treating it as. But it's not proof of Deep State perfidy either.

First of all, +1 to the Inspector General for including a 25 page executive summary of the report and it's findings right up front. I mean, don't get me wrong- if I really have too, I'll dig through all four hundred or so pages of a report, but having spent two months picking my way through the Mueller Report I wasn't exactly thrilled at the prospect of having to do it again. I'll acknowledge that the Executive Summary may not have everything and all the details, so I might be missing some nicities and legalese in all of these, but for the purposes of my humble blog, dear reader, I'm going to go with the Executive Summary and fervently hope that it becomes standard practice for all these investigative reports/special prosecutorial reports. (Because, let's face it: in our hyper-partisan atmosphere and with this President and his, shall we say, casual tap-dancing on the line between legal/ethical and illegal/shady, there are probably going to be more of these things.)

So, there's really three aspects we want to break down here- the Political, the Intelligence Community and the Media Mess of It All.

Politically, it all depends on what you want to get out of this. Team Blue seems to think it's a nothingburger and tried to make some hay out of some 'Pro-Trump' texts that some FBI people sent to each other. (*gasp* the truth is that the FBI is actually a hot bed of Trumpists!) but that didn't exactly go anywhere fast, so they just sort of ignored it and did their usual dismissal of the Deep State Perfidy that Conservatives have been insisting on as nothing more than insane conspiracy theory and things of that nature.

Team Red is convinced that this is proof- and not just regular proof, but proof, of a Deep State Perfidy. President Obama (because, naturally, everything is his fault) used the FBI to spy on his political opponents and it was super illegal and shitty and President Trump was right!

As with the Mueller Report, my general suspicion was that if you take the Foaming At The Mouth narratives at either end of the political spectrum, add 'em together and divide by two you'll wind up somewhere in between and that's more or less where I land on this. No, it's not a nothingburger by any stretch of the imagination. But it's also not proof positive of Deep State Perfidy-- instead, it might be charitable be described as Deep State Incompetence on a somewhat shockingly large scale.

Which leads us to the Intelligence Community of it all. The IG does not pull any punches on that score- the FBI's application for a FISA warrant on Carter Page contained at least seven 'egregious' errors that were then compounded by ten more errors in the additional applications. These errors were 'egregious' enough that, had the FISA court been aware of them they wouldn't have granted the warrant- and given the fact that in the thirty odd years of their existence they've said 'No' to the government like once that I know of, this seems like a pretty big deal.

Was there political bias? I haven't seen convincing evidence that there was explicit political bias... the problem comes back to the Steele Dossier which the IG is pretty convinced should not have been the basis for the FISA application. But if Agents were sending these FISA applications up the chain of command to be reviewed based on potentially questionable intelligence- something short circuited somewhere. Either the people at the top of the circus weren't asking the right questions or the people checking the intelligence weren't as rigorous about it as they should have been- but questions were not asked that perhaps should have been.

I guess there is a possibility of confirmation bias or even implicit bias in this process...  everyone in the Establishment seemed pretty convinced that a President Trump would be a disaster and so, maybe, being handed the Steele Dossier it was easy for people to say, "See, I knew he was going to be a disaster and here's some proof." But I also think that's an inherent problem with any bureaucracy anyway- the organization will always default back into the status quo. They'll always have that confirmation bias that allows them to justify defending the status quo. I don't know the best way to fight groupthink and confirmation bias in big, huge bureaucratic meatgrindery type organ.

In short, there is a scandal here and it's not the one we thought it was. It's not about President Trump or the 2016 election-  it's the fact that when it comes to the government getting warrants to well, spy on us, they can be incredibly sloppy and rely on dubious information and still get it approved.

Shove all the political shit we're hip deep in aside and ponder that notion again. The FBI appears to have been really, really, really bad at their jobs with this stuff. If the government can be that slipshod and still get approval to spy on American citizen then holy shit, Batman do we have problems.

("But, that's just your opinion, man..." Okay, fine, maybe I do have some own biases in the matter- but the FISA Courts themselves have issued a public rebuke of the FBI over this. The FISA Courts who are less of an oversight body and more of a rubber stamp are pretty damn pissed about this- so, yes, a lot of this may be my opinion, but it doesn't mean I'm wrong.)

Look, go read Glenn Greenwald's take on this and come back and tell me I'm wrong. You can accuse Greenwald of being many things, but he's not a Conservative-- dude just posted a pretty lengthy interview with ousted Bolivian President Evo Morales for crying out loud- and when he's saying that this is some messed up shit, it's some messed up shit.

And even better- the icing on this particular cake of incompetence? The media. It's fashionable to beat up on the media these days and some of it's unfair- but in this case, holy shit, y'all...  not only did they take this and run with it- they accelerated the trend of bringing the spies and other members of the national security apparatus into the television studios and onto television to help justify these narratives. It's disturbing as hell.

So what should happen, given all of this?

In a perfect world, Congress would stop fighting like a bunch of cats in a sack and sit down and craft meaningful, bipartisan reforms to improve the FISA courts as well as to make sure the process in not just the FBI but all other  agencies that apply for FISA warrants is fixed so mistakes like this can't happen again. (I also think there's an argument for getting rid of the FISA courts altogether...  I don't like the idea of special secret courts and given their track record of saying no once in the thirty odd years of existence they seem like less of an oversight body and more of a rubber stamp. The case for a thorough overhaul of the whole concept

Do I think that's going to happen? No. Our government, to paraphrase Talleyrand has undoubtedly learned nothing and forgotten nothing once more. The TL;DR of all of this: forget Trump. You can be really really bad at your job and still get approval to spy on American citizens. That should be disturbing to all of us, regardless of our political affiliations.


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