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The Real Reason Why the FBI Had a Spy in the Trump Campaign

Mueller laughing.

The FBI had a human source in the Trump campaign, and nearly everyone commenting on it is wrong. This will set the record straight.

On July 31, the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference in the election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Before launching the full investigation, the FBI sent a confidential human source (CHS) to spy on a Trump campaign adviser. The CHS was reportedly Stefan Halper, a slick political operative for past GOP campaigns and a foreign policy expert with extensive CIA and MI6 connections.

Halper is the latest twist in a Trump-Russia collusion narrative that has been peddled past its expiration date. The question is, did the Obama administration have the authority to spy on the Trump campaign? The answer is—sort of, but not really. The devil, as they say, is in the details.

As stated by FBI Director James Comey, the investigation into Russian interference and any links with the Trump campaign was not a regular criminal investigation but a "counterintelligence" investigation. A national security operation of this sort comprises three stages: threat assessment, preliminary investigation, and full investigation. The FBI Domestic Investigations and Operations Guidel (DIOG) has established specific requirements at each stage.

Assessing a Threat

The threat assessment stage begins when a concern is raised. It doesn’t take much, but it does require an "authorized purpose." According to the DIOG, "The basis of an assessment cannot be arbitrary or groundless speculation." You can’t just say, "My neighbor is a terrorist because he smells funny" and expect an assessment to be made. You have to have more, such as, "My neighbor who posts anti-American propaganda online is moving boxes in and out of his garage at night." That’s some quality information. It could mean nothing. Maybe it is nothing, but it’s cause to check it out.

The purpose of an assessment is to find information on and possibly prevent "federal crimes or threats to the national security." These include "international terrorism; espionage and other intelligence activities, sabotage, and assassination, conducted by, for, or on behalf of foreign powers, organizations, or persons; foreign computer intrusion, and other matters determined by the Attorney General, consistent with Executive order 12333" (on powers and responsibilities of intelligence agencies).

At the assessment stage, investigators want to discover whether there’s any credible information that someone is an agent of a foreign power who is committing or about to commit a crime that puts national security at risk. They are also looking for information on any individual or group that is the target of international terrorism, espionage, foreign computer intrusion, or other threats to national security.

As an agent of a foreign power, individuals "knowingly engage in clandestine intelligence gathering activities, sabotage, international terrorism, or taking on a fraudulent identity for or on behalf of a foreign power, which may involve criminal-law violations"—or anyone who knowingly conspires with the foreign agent.