Here’s a simple question to ask anyone outraged over the recent firing of Michael Atkinson, the former inspector general for the intelligence community: Can you identify a single instance of a report or letter in which Atkinson exposed intelligence community misconduct to the public? After searching the inspector general’s website, I was unable to do so.
Atkinson was an inspector general in name only. After two years, there’s no evidence that he lifted a finger to root out misconduct within the U.S. intelligence community. He’s the inspector who never inspected anything.
Atkinson’s only public sponsorship of a whistleblower was the infamous Ukraine whistleblower who whinged over the president’s foreign policy choices. The Federalist’s Margot Cleveland made an excellent argument for why Atkinson deserved to be fired for the way he handled that complaint. In contrast to Atkinson’s passivity, the Justice Department’s inspector general, a real inspector general, files countless reports auditing the sprawling bureaucracy under his watch.
The intelligence community has a history of compromising its overseers. Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, hasn’t held a single hearing over the intelligence community’s rampant and illegal domestic spying. Instead, Schiff has used his position to coordinate political attacks on President Trump.
The intelligence community long ago disabled its inspector general. First, it gutted the inspector general position. Then it installed Atkinson, who is one of its own, a swamp creature, so he could use the office as a base of operations in the campaign to resist or unseat a duly elected president.
Some history is in order. As Julie Kelly has reported, “In July 2016 . . . Atkinson was named senior counsel to John Carlin, then head of the National Security Division. Carlin was Robert Mueller’s chief of staff when he ran the FBI and was appointed NSD chief by President Obama in 2013.” She further noted, “the National Security Division chiefly is responsible for the Justice Department’s oversight of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The NSD “closely coordinates with the FBI and other Intelligence Community agencies on . . . matters relating to FISA and other national security laws.”
That means, as Kelly points out, Atkinson likely had a hand in the now totally discredited Carter Page FISA warrant.
But even more troubling is that during Atkinson’s tenure with the NSD, it falsely certified that the National Security Agency was not abusing the powerful bulk data collection database. In so doing, the intelligence community concealed a January 7, 2016 inspector general’s report exposing vast abuses.
The NSA’s bulk data collection sweeps up private communications throughout the world. It requires a huge infrastructure just to store the massive data trove. The searchable database creates a formidable spying tool that can be abused to illegally collect online activity of American citizens. This is why the intelligence community is required to certify to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that it has not allowed prying bureaucrats to use the database for illicit spying on Americans. But with near god-like powers in this arena, bureaucrats (predictably) could not resist the urge to do just that.
The inspector general before Atkinson took a small sample of queries from the first three months of 2015 and discovered multiple (the number was redacted because it’s embarrassing) analysts made a much larger number (also redacted) of queries using names of their fellow Americans. Can you think of anything you might do while on the internet that a government official might use as leverage against you? We put some pretty intimate stuff in the Google search bar: symptoms of diseases, signs that your partner is cheating, divorce lawyer contact information, cyberstalking your former high school crush, etc.
Atkinson’s former section, the NSD, is charged with reviewing “all U.S.-person identifiers approved for use” as well as the justifications for each such query in bi-monthly compliance reviews.” The FISA court wrote that the government’s failure to disclose the January 2016 ICIG report was due to an institutional lack of candor. And the intelligence community almost got away with the deception. But then, in October 2016, a whistleblower notified the court that the government had been lying all along.
This whistleblower, NSA chief Admiral Michael S. Rogers, dashed to the FISA court to admit that the intelligence community had been hiding the abuse from the court. Rogers, but none of the other spymasters, amended his affidavit to correct the falsehoods of the earlier certification. Rogers later broke ranks to brief President-elect Donald Trump. Many believe that he is the one who tipped off Trump that various intelligence agencies had been spying on his campaign.
For the intelligence community, the best defense against exposure was a good offense. The subsequent operation to trap former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, the Mueller investigation, and the Ukraine farce all originated from one intelligence agency or another. And all kept the president off-balance to delay the revealing of the greatest domestic spying scandal in U.S. history.
Kelly sees Atkinson as a common thread connecting the now four-year campaign to undermine, resist, and overturn the 2016 election results. From within the NSD, he likely helped facilitate the Russia collusion hoax. Anyone filing a whistleblower complaint about the intelligence community’s role in the Russia collusion hoax would find himself complaining to one of the co-conspirators, Atkinson, the inspector general.
It comes as no surprise that Atkinson has revealed exactly no misconduct within the intelligence community during his tenure. His own dirty laundry is mixed in with the targets of any potential investigation. He used the post to protect himself and his allies while denying the American public a true watchdog over the nation’s intelligence agencies.
The purpose of the inspector general is to hold the people within his agency accountable for misconduct. Instead, Atkinson used his office as a launching pad to prosecute a blatantly political attack on the elected president. Nothing in the Ukrainegate “scandal” had anything to do with his area of responsibility. The get-Trump crowd saw him as a partisan brother-in-arms so they’re naturally upset to lose him. But his firing was a long-overdue act of justice.
(Julie Kelly contributed to this article.)