In July 2018, White House leaks indicated that Donald Trump gave his personal mobile phone number to various foreign leaders. Although Trump is known to have phoned some foreign leaders over his official White House landline, he is also known to call some leaders using his mobile phones on a whim and while some of his calls’ recipients, in Asia, for example, are asleep. Trump is also known to use multiple cell phones to call foreign leaders. Criminals, including narco-lords and drug smugglers, often use multiple “burner” phones in the hope they can evade detection and eavesdropping by law enforcement.
Trump’s official White House landline calls with foreign government leaders are routinely logged and transcribed by National Security Council and State Department personnel, particularly experts on the particular region and country involved, as well as interpreters. However, Trump’s personal calls are subject to being monitored by the National Security Agency and its FIVE EYES partners in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Under federal law and Department of Defense, Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI), and NSA operational regulations, these calls are subject to surveillance, with minimization kicking in if they involve a “U.S. Person.” It is not Trump who is a subject of surveillance but the foreign leaders.
In the case of the multiple calls between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Trump, it is Zelensky’s communications that would be routinely intercepted by NSA. Trump’s name was minimized in raw signals intelligence (SIGINT) reports until it became apparent that he was engaged in a criminal violation of U.S. federal election law by extorting political dirt on the Biden family in exchange for the transfer of previously appropriated U.S. defensive weapons to Ukraine. Also intercepted would have been the private calls between Trump personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani and Zelensky’s aide, Andriy Yermak, as well as calls between Giuliani and Ukrainian presidential chief of staff Andriy Bohdan and acting Security Service chief Ivan Bakanov.
NSA’s “Ukraine Shop” would have retrieved such calls from the PINWALE database, which would have also contained transcripts of other Trump personal calls with other world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and French President Emmanuel Macron. In addition to transcripts of intercepted voice communications, PINWALE includes copies of e-mail, faxes, and text messages.
There are reports that Trump loyalists also attempted to purge other databases that contain intercepts of foreign government officials to which Trump was a party. NSA SIGINT analysts work with various geographic area intercept databases. For example, Balkans analysts comb through intercepts stored in a database called ENRICHMENT. The U.S. embassy in Kyiv also maintains an NSA X-KEYSCORE intercept operation targeting Ukrainian telecommunications networks. Similar systems are found in U.S. embassies around the world. However, in the case of the embassy in the Ukrainian capital, Trump may have discovered its role in NSA operations, resulting in him firing U.S. career foreign service ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch in May of this year.
One of the Intelligence Community’s whistleblower’s complaints against Trump is that White House officials began pulling intercept transcripts out of the relevant database and hid them in another database, with which access is limited, even to NSA and other intelligence analysts.
When criminal activities are discovered by NSA and other Intelligence Community analysts, the redacted name of the U.S. Person is unmasked and a copy of the intercepted communications transcript are forwarded to the Justice Department for possible prosecution. Somehow, this normal process became bogged down in political decisions by certain Trump loyalists in the Justice Department, including Attorney General William Barr and Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Brian Benczkowski.
The interference by Trump loyalists in the normal SIGINT operations and procedures of the NSA and DNI is what triggered the whistleblower complaint to the DNI’s inspector general. Trump has his own big mouth and ignorance of how U.S. intelligence works to blame for his current impeachment predicament.
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
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Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).