With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea......whether there are "tapes" or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.
Rachel Maddow devoted a large part of her show to Trump's admission, in court, that he has lied about recording conversations with one of his biographers. (That is, Trump at first bragged about making recordings and then later claimed that those those boasts were false.) She obviously doubts the reality of those alleged recordings. Call me a natural-born contrarian, but I think she's wrong. I also disagree with Lawrence O'Donnell, who offers his own views in the video embedded above.
Why do Itend to believe in the existence of the Comey "tapes"? First: We know that Trump has made such recordings in the past. Second: We have a clear photograph of a digital voice recorder on Trump's desk in the Oval Office. Let's have no jokes about Trump's maladroit way with technology: I happen to own an Olympus digital voice recorder myself, and I assure you that a small child can operate it. If the internal mic is on the correct setting, the device can capture a conversation on the other side of the room.
So why has Trump backtracked from his impulsively-made "tape" claims, both in that long-ago court case and in the recent Comey situation? Simple: He realized belatedly that making the recordings public would do him much more harm than good. If he admitted that he taped Comey, Mueller would demand to hear that recording and other recordings as well. That situation could get really sticky really fast.
What was the purpose of Trump's theatrical delay before denying the existence of "tapes"? I don't know. His strange behavior seems indicative of -- well, of something, though I'm not sure what that "something" might be.
The wording of his tweeted statement becomes more ominous on second read: "With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information..." Obviously, he's hewing to an agreed-upon propaganda line designed to paint Obama and Susan Rice as sinister agents of the Deep State, but his text also conveys the hint of a threat. Perhaps he intended to convey this message: "Recordings may indeed exist. But if and when they come out, I won't let you saddle me with the legal consequences."
The Nixon factor. In recent weeks, we've seen innumerable rehashes of the Watergate tapes. Nobody on teevee ever gets the story right, because only people with a superficial view of history are ever allowed on camera.
Here's an all-important detail you probably don't know: There were multiple parties recording Nixon's White House.
Why didn't Nixon burn the tapes in his possession? Because he knew that he didn't have the only copies. Strong evidence suggests that another set of recordings were held by CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton.
Before we get much further with our story, it is important to understand that Angleton had become a Nixon opponent from the right. Nixon pursued a policy of detente, which Angleton detested. Moreover, the legendarily paranoid CIA molehunter considered Kissinger a Soviet agent -- an absurd idea which Angleton couldn't give up.
(Long-time readers may accuse me of having an Angleton obsession. True enough. But hear me out: In this case, much of the evidence is compelling.)
In 1975, New York Times foreign affairs correspondent Tad Szulc -- one of the most-respected journalists in American history -- published a lengthy article in Penthouse on electronic eavesdropping in Washington. (Back then, both Penthouse and Playboy paid big bucks for "quality" articles by big-name writers.) His work was summarized by the Washington Post and republished in the report of a congressional committee (here). After that, the whole thing went down the memory hole. If you bring up now what Szulc said then, you'll be dismissed as one of those awful, awful conspiracy theorists -- even though nobody felt that way back in 1975.
Here is the relevant section of Szulc's piece:
One extraordinary example is the tiny laser-beam transmitter embedded in the wall of the Oval Office at the White House. This transmitter picked up and relayed to a remote recording center every conversation between Richard M. Nixon and his aides, friends, and visitors during at least several months in 1970, the year the former president launched his secret domestic intelligence program. Presidential telephone conversations, including those conducted over "secure" scrambler lines, were also picked up by the laser transmitter.
The existence in the presidential office of this highly sophisticated device, known by the code name "Easy Chair," remains one of the most sensitive, closely guarded, and intriguing secrets of the Nixon period. This knowledge is restricted to about a dozen key past and present officials of the Intelligence Community. But the precise purpose of the operation, the exact identity of those who ordered the installation of the laser device under a coat of fresh paint on the Oval Office wall, and the ultimate disposition of the instrument remain unclear. Nor do we know if tapes were made of these transmissions — which is perhaps, the most crucial question.
It is also not known if Nixon himself was aware of and consented to the installation. If he did, the laser system complemented his hidden recording devices that produced the famous White House tapes. (In any event, the laser device picked up with infinitely more clarity every word uttered in the Oval Office, eliminating the "unintelligible" gaps that affected the tapes. In addition, the laser system permits, unlike a tape recorder, the identification of every individual voice in a room and the separation of several simultaneous conversations.) It is not known where the laser beam signal was received, but technical experts believe that such a device has a transmission range of under a half mile along a clear line of sight. The laser beam must be aimed out a window — it would be deflected by a wall. In the case of the Oval Office it had to go through the panes of the French doors leading to the Rose Garden.
Highly reliable sources told Penthouse that one or more senior officials of the Secret Service and the Central Intelligence Agency are familiar with the "Easy Chair'- situation in the White House, although they could not say whether they learned of it only when the laser device was discovered and removed early in August 1970, or whether they knew at some earlier date. The sources would not rule out that the late J. Edgar Hoover, then director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was also privy to "Easy Chair.'
In any event, this super-bugging of the presidential office looms as one of the most bizarre episodes in the still unfolding story of domestic spying carried out by six successive administrations, but climaxing most spectacularly during Nixon's tenure.
Penthouse learned of this bugging of the Oval Office as a result of a lengthy investigation. According to highly authoritative sources, the person who installed the laser transmitter, possibly on a second attempt when an original device did not function properly, is a foreign-born individual employed as a painter by the government and apparently controlled by one of the intelligence agencies. His name as well as a number of other relevant details are withheld from publication to avoid causing suffering and embarrassment to persons innocently involved in this operation.
When Michael Beschloss appears on MSNBC to deliver the "lite" version of Watergate, he doesn't tell you about that material.
The idea of a "laser microphone" may seem like something out of Marvel comics, but as this Wikipedia article notes, the basic concept goes back to the 1940s, well before the invention of lasers. You can find various references to Easy Chair on the web, if you know where to look -- for example, here. (That link goes to cryptomuseum.com. It's a rah-rah pro-spook site, so don't go there expecting to see any references to bugs in the White House.)
The FBI factor. Szulc's 1975 article hints at an even larger story. Take another look at this passage: "The sources would not rule out that the late J. Edgar Hoover, then director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was also privy to "Easy Chair.'"
Question: Why did Szulc bring up Hoover? That bit of name-dropping comes out of the blue. Another question: Given the strained relations between CIA and the FBI, just how did Hoover learn about Easy Chair?
The Hoover claim must be considered in conjunction with another passage: "...technical experts believe that such a device has a transmission range of under a half mile along a clear line of sight." These words bring up an obvious quandary: Where would the eavesdroppers place the receiver?
I think that Szulc offered a big clue when he brought up J. Edgar Hoover. No, I'm not talking about the FBI Building, which did not open until 1975. (Besides, it stands outside the half-mile radius.) Curt Gentry's invaluable biography J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets (page 633) suggests a much better location:
The FBI had a number of secret listening posts in Washington and its environs, including a large facility at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia -- it was from here that the wires of the Central Intelligence Agency, at nearby Langley, were supposedly tapped -- but the heart of its electronic surveillance operations was the Old Post Office Building, which was located in the Federal Triangle, close to the FBI headquarters in the Justice Department Building but far enough away that an attorney general wouldn't accidentally walk in.
Since the Post Office had moved into its new building in 1934, the Bureau had gradually taken over most of the old building. Here, behind locked doors, with the tightest possible security, scores of monitors sat in front of small consoles, earphones on their heads, listening to, and recording, thousands of conversations.
The Old Post Office Building was the obvious choice for the "Easy Chair" surveillance operation. The building code in D.C. enforces a strict height restriction, but the tower of the the Old Post Office Building predates that law. Except for the Washington Monument, no other place in the city offers a higher vantage point. The tower offers superb line-of-sight access to all sort of interesting places.
Although a tree now blocks the way, in Nixon's time, the Old Post Office Building tower offered a direct view of the windows of the Oval Office. Moreover, the Old Post Office Building is just within our 1/2 mile radius.
The photo published above and to the right was taken from the tower; the White House is in the upper center, behind the Treasury Building (the grey building with columns in front). The "Marine One" photo below, taken in 1970, proves that the foliage was once much less dense.
The Trump factor. Of course, the Old Post Office Building is now owned by none other than Donald Trump. I've never read anything to suggest that the Hoover-era surveillance equipment was completely removed from that building.
You may recall that Trump has said that he expects to be under surveillance in foreign hotels. Perhaps he knows about such things because he has allowed surveillance to take place within his hotels.
As we've seen in several previous posts, some very shady characters have had offices and living quarters in Trump Tower. These characters were so very shady that the FBI had them under surveillance. Could the Bureau have bugged those locations without help from the owner of the building? Possibly -- but you must admit that the operation would have been a lot easier with Trump's acquiesence.
We've also heard the suggestion that Trump himself may have functioned as an FBI asset:
As all readers of Wayne Barret and David Cay Johnston know, Donald Trump has gotten away with all sorts of legally dubious crap over the years. It makes sense that Donnie would protect his interests by making various deals with the feds.
You may have noticed that Trump Tower has a history of renting to high-level crooks, and that the feds always found it easy to "tapp" those particular suites. (Apparently, there has been a lot of bugging in that building.) One example would be Felix Sater, a former Trump Tower tenant who himself functioned as an FBI informant.
At one time, there were plans to transform the Old Post Office Building into a Women's Museum. Is it outlandish to suggest that the intelligence community, for reasons of its own, has always wanted to see that building function as a Trump hotel?
The Angleton Factor. J. Edgar Hoover's motive for spying on the White House should be obvious. As most people know, he maintained power by obtaining blackmail material -- what we now call "kompromat" -- on everyone in town, including the various residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
So why would I bring James Angleton of the CIA into this story?
He, too, was renown for conducting surveillance on everyone in town. Moreover, he would discuss each night's eavesdropping haul with DCI Allen Dulles. From Michael Holzman's Angleton bio, quoting Tom Braden:
"Angleton would come into Allen's office first thing in the morning and report what his bugs had picked up the night before. He used to delight Allen with stories of what happened at people's dinner parties...Jim used to come unto Allen's office and Allen would say, 'How's the fishing?' And Jim would say, 'Well, I got a few nibbles last night.' It was all done in the guise of fishing talk."
Some have wondered how Angleton acquired the ability to eavesdrop on so many people. The answer is simple: His staff did not do the actual surveillance work. J. Edgar Hoover allowed Angleton to have access to the electronic intelligence that kept streaming into the Old Post Office Building.
The photos themselves have never been published. Their existence was first revealed to the public in 1993, by British author Anthony Summers, whose main source was an infamous electronics expert named Gordon Novel. Circa 1990, I played a small role in publicizing Novel's claim about the Hoover/Tolson photo, which he originally made in a private phone conversation with a pilot linked to the intelligence community. The pilot taped the call; I somehow got hold of a transcript and passed it along to -- well, to all sorts of people. (Kinkos was my second home back in those pre-internet days, and my Rolodex had some interesting names and addresses.) Eventually, the document reached a Summers associate, with whom I later spoke. Fortunately, the British journalist was able to find a secondary source for the story; he even got Novel to repeat the claim on camera for a Frontline documentary, which is probably online.
(Somewhere along the way, I was threatened by Novel, which quite disturbed me at the time. I later learned that such threats were simply his way of saying "Hi.")
All of which brings us back to the tapes of the Nixon White House.
At CIA, Novel dealt pretty much exclusively with Angleton. That fact explains why Charles Colson sounded out Novel concerning a rather bizarre scheme to erase the Watergate tapes using a "degaussing gun." This tentative plan was first described by columnist Jack Anderson in August of 1974. (Many years later, during an impromptu radio interview, Novel later said that the only reason he didn't do it was "They didn't pay me.")
Unfortunately, Anderson's rather garbled piece focuses on an alleged plan to degauss tapes stored in the White House basement. The story makes only the briefest of references to copies of the same White House conversations at CIA headquarters.
Almost no-one who read that article in 1974 understood the implications. Before the Watergate prosecutor knew of the existence of those tapes, before the public learned about the tapes, the White House understood that the CIA had copies of everything.
That single fact -- which (as we will see) Colson confirmed -- changes our entire view of Watergate.
The CIA had their own recordings of Nixon's conversations within the White House. You won't hear those words from Rachel Maddow or from any other MSNBC or CNN newsfolk offering Watergate retrospectives. Was the Colson/Novel "degaussing" plan practical or serious? I don't know and I don't care. Any such discussion diverts us from the history-changing words that have been hiding in plain sight since 1974: The CIA had their own recordings of Nixon's conversations within the White House.
Now you know the real reason why Nixon could not simply "burn the tapes." He knew that his tapes were not the sole tapes.
If Tad Szulc's 1975 story is accurate -- and I believe it is -- then the CIA recorded the Nixon White House using "Easy Chair" technology. Moreover, we have three excellent reasons to believe that these recordings fell into James Angelton's possession.
1. As noted above, there is good reason to believe that Angleton had access to the "take" from the Hoover's surveillance operation in the Old Post Office Building.
2. If you study Szulc's career, you'll see that he often used Angleton as a source. Szulc admitted as much in secret testimony delivered to the Church Committee. (See page 166 of Holzman's book.) I strongly believe that Angleton was Szulc's source for the 1975 article which revealed the existence of the CIA's "Easy Chair" project.
3. Gordon Novel made clear on more than one occasion that -- when it came to the CIA -- he dealt almost exclusively with Angleton. To erase tapes in Angleton's possession, Colson needed someone who could gain access to Angleton's office on the second floor of CIA headquarters. That "someone" would have been Novel.
The CIA factor. Suppose I'm wrong in my view that "Easy Chair" technology targeted Nixon. The conventional view holds that the White House taping system was installed by a tech guy named Alexander Butterfield, who later blabbed about the whole thing to the Watergate investigators.
Guess what? We still have a strong CIA connection.
Jim Hougan's invaluable Secret Agenda devotes part of its fourth chapter to the claims that the CIA had infiltrated the White House. Most people don't know that James McCord -- formerly a CIA man, later a Watergate burglar -- was brought on board by Alfred Wong, the technical director for the Secret Service.
As H. R. Haldeman has written: "Were there CIA 'plants' in the White House? On July 10, 1975, Chairman Lucien Nedzi of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee released an Inspector-General's Report in which the CIA admitted there was a 'practice of detailing CIA employees to the White House and various government agencies.' The IG Report revealed there were CIA agents in 'intimate components of the Office of the President.' Domestic CIA plants are bad enough, but in 'intimate components' of the Office of the President'?" Haldeman then goes on to speculate about the identities of the CIA men in the White House. His main suspect is Alexander Butterfield, the former Air Force officer whose White House responsibilities included overall supervision of the presidential taping system. That system consisted of some two dozen room microphones and telephone taps that Wong's Secret Service detachment had installed in the White House and at Camp David; voice-activated by the Presidential Locator System or manually by Butterfield, the microphones and taps fed into a set of concealed Sony tape recorders. Haldeman's suspicions about Butterfield -- who denies that he was a CIA asset -- were shared by Rose Mary Woods, President Nixon's personal secretary. Together they criticize Butterfield for voluntarily revealing the existence of the taping system; they point with suspicion to Butterfield's early service as a military aide to GOP nemesis Joseph Califano, and make much of the fact that the circumstances of Butterfield's White House appointment are disputed.
Haldeman and Woods are not alone in their suspicions of Butterfield, or in their concern over the Inspector General's report. If Bill McMahon is correct, McCord's seconding of CIA personnel in undercover assignments at the White House amounted to the calculated infiltration of a uniquely sensitive Secret Service unit: the staff responsible for maintaining and servicing the presidential taping system, and for storing its product. Moreover, unless both Haldeman and McMahon are mistaken-about Butterfield's secret allegiance and McCord's loan of personnel to Wong-then the CIA would seem to have had unrivaled access to the President's private conversations and thoughts. Charles Colson, among others, believes that this is precisely what occurred. "The CIA had tapes of every thing relating to the White House," Colson told me. "And they destroyed them two days after [Senator Mike] Mansfield asked them to save all of their tapes."
This passage from Hougan does not necessarily conflict with the Szulc piece. Szulc describes a system to eavesdrop on the Oval Office -- but unlike all other presidents, Nixon didn't like to spend time there. If Agency personnel wanted to know that was going on in that administration, they would have to bug more than one room.
If the intelligence community knew Nixon's secrets in 1972, they must surely know Trump's secrets now.
Keep all of this history in mind whenever a Spookworld fanboy -- or fangirl (I'm looking at you, Louise) -- paints a naive, comforting picture of "heroic intelligence officers versus the Trump/Putin conspiracy." The situation was hardly simple in Nixon's day. The situation cannot possibly be so simple now.
Is the "deep state" is out to get Donald Trump? Not in my book. I think that a faction of the intelligence community is protecting him.
Hi Joseph, good thing you can stay cool in these heated days!
Here’s a question: What might Putin’s drop of Trump look like? Because it will surely come. Trump hasn’t delivered (and won’t be able to) on any of Putin’s two crucial interests: a) the sanctions lift, b) the installation of General Misha as de facto Commander in Chief. I bet Vlad is not amused these days.
Consider that the next best thing to the vanished Trump promises that Putin can hope for is an America weakened by a crippled presidency and a lengthy and self-injuring impeachment process. And I guess Putin has enough material on Trump to feed that richly. When your debtor can’t pay, you can at least make him sweat.
Is Roddie’s “cryptic message” a warning that a Russian attack on Trump is imminent? This attack will of course be played not through the usual (discredited) suspects such as RT etc. but through those WaPo and NYT “sources that do not identify the country”.
posted by Anonymous : 11:22 AM
Somewhere, long ago read that during World War II, when Hitler met with his generals, the U.S.S.R. had a agent who monitored and recorded their discussions. If true, wonder if the listening was shared with the O.S.S.
If an article, "The Laser Listener," that I read in Radio Electronics Magazine, October 1987, can be believed, this "laser transmitter" needn't involve any foreign-born painters hiding anything in the Oval Office walls.
This device bounces a laser beam off a window and records the reflected beam as it's modulated by the vibrations in the glass. The window itself becomes a giant microphone.
posted by Anonymous : 2:35 PM
That's not a description of a laser microphone. Laser microphones don't require physical installation. You shoot a laser at a window, it detects vibrations through the glass from conversations inside. The laser isn't used to transmit from a physical bug to a remote location.
To be honest, Stephen and Anon, I had read the same material -- that lasers are used to pick up vibrations in window panes. Szulc is no longer with us, so we can't ask him follow up questions. It may be that his sources (among them, almost certainly, JJA) deliberately gave him skewed information in order to protect a methodology which was quite secret in 1975. On the other hand, Szulc's story about a Hungarian painter "painting" a bug on a White House interior wall is rather detailed and seemingly persuasive.
I'll tell you something else, even though I probably shouldn't. I have this weird stray memory-shard from twenty years ago (or therabouts). SOMEONE once told me that the Washington Monument has been used as an eavesdropping device or relay station. I don't recall who said that, and thus I can't say if the person making this claim was reliable. It's very possible that memory is playing tricks on me.
But the monument is definitely within line of sight of both the Oval Office and the Old Post Office Building. (I've never ventured inside the Monument, so I'm not sure if there's room "up there" for a laser-receiver thingie. You couldn't get me to climb up that thing if you held me at gunpoint.)
Avehicle parked on Constitution Ave would also be within line of sight. Nowadays, the Secret Service would become suspicious of such a vehicle in very short order. I'm not sure what the situation would have been in 1972.
Back in the day I went to the top of the Washington monument....and came down the stairs! Don't remember what the room looked like, but I do think they closed the monument for a long time, so who knows what's in there!