Former Intel Officer Tony Shaffer on How the FBI Became a Political Tool Under Obama — American Thought Leaders

February 16, 2019 Updated: April 5, 2019

Events in the 2016 elections were unprecedented. Top FBI officials knowingly used information paid for by the campaign of Hillary Clinton to obtain a FISA spy warrant on a member of the Trump campaign. Meanwhile, top Obama administration officials also spied on the campaign, using so-called unmasking requests.

Those same FBI agents, however, chose to look the other way when it came to the risks posed by Clinton’s use of a private email server. We now know that emails she sent as secretary of state through that server were automatically copied to an unknown foreign entity.

Looking ahead of the 2020 elections, the question is whether the FBI has been reformed enough to make sure political biases don’t influence investigations.

Today we sit down with Tony Shaffer, acting president of the London Center for Policy Research. He served as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, where he was a senior intelligence officer. Today, he’s also an advising producer for National Geographic and a member of the Trump 2020 advisory board.

Jan Jekielek: So let’s talk about what has been known as the Spygate scandal or also known as the Russia collusion scandal in some circles. In short, the FBI used politicized and flawed information to investigate the Trump campaign. They were fed information by a series of people who were actually paid by the Hillary Clinton campaign, including MI6 agent Christopher Steele, Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson, and Perkins Coie lawyer Michael Sussman. The FBI then used this unverified information to obtain a series of FISA warrants on Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page [and others]. This seems like a terrible thing to happen and we were discussing earlier that this has really tarnished the reputation of certain agencies, especially the FBI, in this case. What do you think can be done to fix that?

Tony Shaffer: There are three things that need to be examined in this, and I’ve had experience in dealing with these sorts of domestic operations. While it’s not well-known, the Department of Defense has parallel authorities with the FBI regarding what we call foreign counterintelligence. So, we, the Department of Defense, do these sorts of things. And so I’m very familiar with the authorities, based on having to have briefed these sorts of operations to the Natural Security Council. So let’s start there. EO12333 is the foundational document that governs all of these sorts of collection activities. Each agency then takes and has its own implementation guidelines, within the context of the FBI doing domestic foreign counterintelligence, especially on political campaigns.

A waiver is required by the National Security Council, in this case, Susan Rice, to allow for enhanced domestic collection on individuals. That is to say that, to have the Trump campaign collected on is extraordinarily hard because, in most circumstances, if you’re a U.S. citizen and you’re being targeted by the Russians, you are obligated to be told. The FBI is obligated to tell you that you’re a target. Because you’ve done nothing wrong, you’re a U.S. citizen. The only way you cannot have that done is by a waiver at the National Security Council. So everything starts, everything we’re talking about in some form, goes back to National Security Council, because those waivers had to be granted. So let’s start with that. Once those waivers are granted then, we’ve seen from that allowance, that diversion from policy, for the FBI to have essentially this door open for them to do extraordinarily bad things regarding their authority.

The FISA system, the foreign intelligence collection activities which we’re talking about, are very powerful. The U.S. government has very powerful technology. I’ve overseen very complex technology programs which the American public has no clue exists. They just don’t. And any time you have these programs, you must have really good oversight so that this power is not abused. My belief is that certain members of the FBI knew exactly what they were doing regarding using these powerful tools of collection and technology against domestic political threats—what they saw as threats—which were the Trump campaign and others who were essentially endangering the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. That candidacy was jeopardized by two-fold issues: first, her use of an illegal email server; that’s an unforced error on her part. It’s still not resolved. And then, of course, just the fact that political forces were challenging her on the domestic political front. So these two things combined [and] we’ve now seen the FBI essentially took a side. And they did so again, based on the waivers they got from the White House.

So when you get down to the operational level, to the level of [James] Comey, of Peter Strzok, of Andrew McCabe, and these others, who were now the overseers of these immensely powerful programs, there was at some point, from my judgment, a decision to allow for what we as intelligence officers never permit: outside information to be used as gospel, hard intelligence facts. I did intelligence collection for over 30 years. And within those operations, unless we, the U.S. government, developed the information through our own independent sources, it wasn’t considered valid. You would never take information from an “opposition research firm,” put it into the system, and say this is validated intelligence. It’s never done, for two reasons: First, it’s opposition research, so you automatically understand the slant, even if it’s factual. It’s going to be flavored a certain way to essentially be unusable for purposes of factual understanding of the situation. It’s just not done. Secondly, whenever you do something like that, you have the potential of opening a door to information, operations, and deception. In this case, in the case of Steele with his information, it’s my belief based on what I’ve seen regarding the information collection chain, this was information that was fed to Steele for purposes of upending our elections. This was information designed by someone in Russia to essentially be a poison pill. And I don’t believe the Russians, for the record, took a side during the 2016 elections.

I believe the Russians were trying to upend the elections for purposes of just being Russians. The Russians try to be disruptive in any democratic process. This was no different. So they were in a position to win no matter who became the president. They would win because if Trump became president, they were able to do some things to undermine his authority. Obviously, the whole Russia narrative, the Russian investigation, has been a huge lodestone on the presidency. If Hillary Clinton had won, they could have done things to say that they undermined her legitimacy by saying that she did things with them and her election was not legitimate. They were going to win no matter what—either way. And the FBI was completely oblivious to the danger of taking in this information, putting it into the intelligence collection system as if it was gospel. So those are the two things I see that were hugely wrong with the FBI doing this. But let me emphasize this again, they could not have done all of these things—especially not telling Trump about the fact that there was a perception that he was being collected against—if not for the White House opening the door for them to do all this.

Mr. Jekielek:  Because of this waiver of the NSC?

Mr. Shaffer: Because of that waiver.

Mr. Jekielek: So, two questions: Who can be held accountable for this and how can accountability be found? And the second is: What can be done to rehabilitate obviously this incredibly important agency, the FBI, which right now is in this tarnished state?

Mr. Shaffer: Let me say for the record, I’ve worked with the FBI three times undercover with them over the past 30 years doing the INF: the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. I worked with the FBI in Texas, where we were in the process of destroying our boosters and the FBI and the Army ran joint teams to monitor Soviet officers who were involved in observing our activities. I worked with the FBI again on 17 November, a terrorist group in Athens, where we were working right out here at WFO, deploying forward with an FBI team to defeat the terror organization, which notably, they defeated right before the Greek Olympics, and then also in Afghanistan. In my book, “Operation Dark Heart,” I do document the time we worked together with the FBI. The FBI actually conducted an interrogation which ended up breaking—we didn’t touch him—an enabler of the IRGC trying to fund terrorist activities against us in Afghanistan. These are all things which I’ve done, so I have the highest regard and respect for FBI agents.

I have no regard at all for their leadership. Many agents feel as I did, because of this tarnished image that these leaders have now created for the FBI. So what do we do? First, I think we have to do a full review of everything within the FBI’s foreign counterintelligence programs. We have to have a peer come in and do, essentially, an academic and operational review. In the Army, we do to reduce all the time of foreign counterintelligence cases. We have someone with fresh eyes come in and look at it to verify the legality, verify the operational necessity, and verify the tradecraft, a very simple thing. Someone needs to do that regarding all FBI agents. I’m arguing that we should have the Department of Defense, with their foreign counterintelligence activities, do a full audit. And I do mean a full audit, not an IG (inspector general) audit, not a criminal investigation. Just an audit, because if we believe that the FBI took these shortcuts, we do know they took shortcuts for this Russian narrative issue.

Mr. Jekielek:  There may be other things.

Mr. Shaffer: There are probably other things. So I think we owe it to the American people to do. And the FBI owes it for their own interest to have someone come in and look. They owe it, they need to have this done to begin the process of overcoming this tarnished image that they have created. Secondly, and I think of equal importance, is to hold those accountable who broke the law. There are specific instances of Title 18, which some people like McCabe have been referred to the Department of Justice for violations of that—there have been criminal referrals. I believe that if you examine each player within the context of the play: Comey, McCabe, Strzok, Lisa Page, and others, you will find that they did violate directly elements of Title 18 and, based on the fact that you need to have a single justice system that doesn’t play favorites, they must be looked at for prosecution based on these violations. We know Comey compromised classified information. We know Strzok, for a fact, has lied before Congress at least three times. I’ve talked to members of Congress about the conflicts between what he said in closed session versus what he said in open session.

That’s something that’s being dealt with right now. So you’ve got to do both things: You’ve got to do a full review to make sure that the American people can regain trust by a third party looking at what the FBI did on foreign counterintelligence as well as now, at this point, examining the full scope of all the Title 18 felony violations conducted by these officers and investigate them and prosecute them to the full extent of the law. They should not be above the law simply because they were federal officers in the FBI. It gives them no special dispensation for their bad acts.

Mr. Jekielek:  You know one of the things that really struck me as you were speaking … We’re talking about some opposition research that was used, but it’s also research that was actually done, at least in part, by foreign intelligence agencies. And so we had current and former United Kingdom intelligence agency people basically providing information about Americans. I think many of our audience would see that as gross overreach by intelligence agencies. How do we protect against this? How do we protect Americans against this in the future?

Mr. Shaffer:  This goes back to where the FBI did violate laws or allowed the violation of laws to exist within the context of this. U.S. citizens can’t deal legally with foreign intelligence and operatives, you can’t do it. The moment you do that, you are in danger of violating U.S. law. There is a number of exceptions that allow for the FBI and intelligence community to spy on you. One of those is if you are dealing with a known intelligence operative of a foreign nation, that’s illegal. It opens the door. But, in this case, it was encouraged. The FBI did not say, “Fusion GPS, you shouldn’t be doing that.” They were all in, allowing this to be open. And the second point of concern is the very thing you said: Foreign intelligence services have an interest that is not generally in line with our interests. Even the British will tell you that while we’re allies, we’re not necessarily in sync on every single issue. They as a nation have their own national security objectives. Some overlap and some do not. So I think this is one of the issues that we have to be aware of when we study this as an after-the-fact issue.

The FBI knowingly permitted intelligence operatives from foreign nations—with objectives which clearly were not in the interests of United States—to allow information into our system, to be used as fact, which has, to this day, disrupted our political process and continues to interfere with some people’s confidence in democracy.

Mr. Jekielek:  As you mentioned earlier, you weren’t happy with the top brass in the FBI, but actually a lot of them, it seems, have been replaced or removed. I don’t know how many layers or how deep that goes, but it does look like significant action has been taken. How significant is that?

Mr. Shaffer:  Not sufficient. Director [Christopher] Wray has been reluctant to, I think, go to the full extent of what’s necessary to weed out the bad actors. The FBI did not become corrupted overnight. This was, I would argue, a process started under the Clintons back in the ’90s, where you had a series of individuals over time who came into the senior levels of the FBI, who were more legally focused, more lawyers out of DOJ, rather than field operatives. I’ve been an operative my entire life. I have little tolerance for analysts who want to play in operations. And I think, in our intelligence community, we have seen huge failures based on analysts coming in to be in charge of operations. The same parallel exists within DOJ and FBI. Basically, the agents who come through the field have a really good understanding of how to go about investigating, preparing evidence, and submitting it for purposes of prosecution or, in the case of foreign counter-intelligence, how to effectively set up counterintelligence operations to catch spies. Lawyers who have never had any field operational experience and come in to be in charge and oversee that, tend to politicize the operations, rather than allow them to run to the full extent of what the logical conclusion should be. So what lawyers are to FBI operators, we have the same problem with analysts in the intelligence community, telling us, as operatives, what to do. This has been a problem over time.

A lot of the folks we see now running the FBI are very focused on legality rather than success … For example, in the last couple of days, Lisa Page’s texts, which were revealed over the last 72 hours, indicate that the FBI was trying to cut a deal with State Department regarding Hillary Clinton’s classified emails found on the [Anthony] Weiner laptop; they said, basically, if you FBI downgrade the classification to unclassified, we’ll give you more space in our embassies overseas.  That’s payola.

Mr. Jekielek: That doesn’t sound good.

Mr. Shaffer: That’s my point, you have these lawyers … Lisa Page is a lawyer. So what you see is lawyers coming in to manage the process of the whole activity. And I don’t believe for a minute Lisa Page’s actions were reflective of what a field operative in the FBI would have done regarding seeking justice. I don’t think a field operative would have cared about how many attaché positions they have in embassies overseas. They would have done their best as sworn officers—sworn law enforcement officers—to follow the information where it was. You bring in people like Lisa Page, who have no interest in serving justice, trying to basically cut political deals behind the scenes. This is the illustration of my point. And when you have this level of corruption, you’ve got to weed it out. And I don’t believe Wray has actually gone in and done this to the level necessary to right the FBI.

Mr. Jekielek: Do you think he will?

Mr. Shaffer: No, I don’t. I think he is a member of “the swamp.” I think, based on his actions to date, that he has done what he can to stop the bleeding. But he has no interest in cutting out the cancer that’s in the FBI.

Mr. Jekielek:  Speaking the email server, there’s also some evidence recently unearthed that some of the emails may have been sent to a foreign entity.

Mr. Shaffer: All of them, except for seven.

Mr. Jekielek: Can you explore that a little bit more?

Mr. Shaffer: I’ve actually spoken to the members of DOD who discovered this flaw. This flaw was discovered by the intelligence-community part of the Department of Defense. It was the ODNI inspector general’s office. And they did a full evaluation. They received the same copy of the email server and all the emails that the FBI had. And the purpose of the ODNI, the IG who came out of DOD —the reason they were doing this review is because they had to make an assessment of the classification of all the emails that were contained on Hillary Clinton’s server. So it was during that review of every email, basically, they went through every email and not only did DOD, but ODNI guys looked at the email, they looked at the metadata.

So every email, as you know and your audience probably knows, that within the data which moves the email, there’s router information that indicates who sent the email, when it was sent, how it was sent, the route it took, and anybody else who gets copies of it. So within this very deep metadata review, the ODNI IG discovered that every email, except for like seven, were being sent to a third party. That third party was apparently, I’m told, a business that was in Manassas, Virginia, and that business was owned or is owned by the Chinese intelligence service. And there was a drop at this place, then it was sent off to Chicago, is what I was briefed. And what’s significant about this is not so much that I know; it’s the fact that, according to the ODNI IG, Peter Strzok, the guy in charge of the Clinton email investigation within the FBI, was briefed on this three times. And each briefing, he was presented with this information and the question was, “What are you going to do about this?” So and, by the way, this is now in congressional testimony. Peter Strzok was asked this question in closed hearings. He gave one answer in closed hearings and then he was asked again in public by Congressman Louie Gohmert and he gave a different answer. So this is an unresolved issue. Based on the information I have from talking to people who were directly involved, this was known to the FBI. And the FBI refused to examine it as part of their investigation.

To this day, I have no clear understanding of why Strzok did not look at this, but they did provide him, that is, the ODNI did provide Strzok the specific investigation data from their investigation, which indicated this all had occurred.

Mr. Jekielek: Can you comment on the national security implications of this?

Mr. Shaffer:  The two implications are: First, anything that Hillary Clinton had on a server was compromised to the Chinese intelligence service, which indicates to me that by law, there is supposed to be a damage assessment conducted by this compromise—that’s by law. Anytime you have a compromise like this of information to a foreign intelligence threat, you have to do an evaluation of what damage was done. Jim Clapper, when he was ODNI, was asked about not doing a damage assessment. And he said that he didn’t want to do it. I don’t think that’s a good answer. But it needs to be done. And again, I’ve said this to a number of members of Congress and the Senate. This is not a partisan issue by law. When you have a compromise like this, it says in the law [that] you must do a damage assessment. So the first thing you’ve got to do is do a damage assessment. Secondly, there is other evidence the Chinese have been very effective in eating our lunch.

We lost a number of assets back about 2011, 2012 in Beijing. We’ve never recovered from that. There’s other indicators that the Chinese are very effective in their intelligence collection programs against us. I think we need to do a review of everything we’re doing to figure out why the Chinese are so effective. So those are the things I think we should do, based on this information. And, again, I’m speaking about this purely as an intelligence professional. You need to set aside the politics, whatever they are, and actually do the job evaluating how this was compromised, what was compromised, and what the damage was that came from this compromise.

Mr. Jekielek:  This work that you do, advising congressional members and so forth, also speaks to your role as the acting president at the London Center. Can you tell me more about what you do?

Mr. Shaffer: Being a president is very distracting from getting work done, I’ll say that for the record. What I normally do, as the vice president for operations and I’m still doing it as president, is I manage a group of extraordinary fellows—male and female—who are masters of the practicing of their art of expertise or talent of their choosing. Sidney Powell—you interviewed Sidney Powell a few days ago—is an amazing woman who is an extraordinary litigator. She’s well-respected, a practitioner. One of my closest friends and colleagues who is one of our distinguished members of our board is Bud McFarlane, the national security adviser for President Reagan. [There’s also] Jim Woolsey, another extraordinary fellow, distinguished fellow, who actually is one of the backbone of our organization. The common thread of the people that we have within our ranks and our purpose as practitioners [is] we are very big on examining practical issues from the perspective of what policies work.

We don’t deal well with theoretical papers. You don’t see us do a lot of papers because, while we do have academics—I publish editorials, your organization publishes my editorials—we’re very much into educating the public in a very academic and factual way. We deal primarily in fact, in fact relating to this process worked in the past. We believe if you adapt this process for this current challenge, the chances of success are pretty good. And I’d like to believe that if we’re brought into a situation—we were brought into Venezuela recently by certain senior leaders at the State Department—we’re being brought in because they want to have practical answers that will result in some outcome that is favorable to the national security interests of the United States.

Mr. Jekielek: Very interesting. This also speaks to my next question, which is personally you are involved as an adviser to the Trump 2020 campaign. What inspired you to do this?

Mr. Shaffer:  Prior to President Trump’s election, we as practitioners of intelligence and law enforcement, had seen a diminution—if you will—of a commitment by the federal bureaucracy to do the right thing. I think we talked today about the Russian narrative or Russian collusion investigation as an example of that … including my own issue of Able Danger of the 9/11 attacks. I’ve seen, personally, coverups that would curl the hair of the American public. And a lot of us were kind of tired of seeing the federal bureaucracy or “the swamp” being able to determine its own future by being pretty much impervious to any oversight. And when President Trump rolled into town, one of the extraordinary things about the man is that he actually went about keeping his political promises. And so to me, as someone who is seeing “the swamp” go after people for purposes of trying to protect its own wrongdoing, I was very buoyed by President Trump’s election and then him keeping his word. When I was asked … a little over a year ago to join as an adviser to the campaign, I thought about it seriously.

Based on actions up to that point by the president, I felt that joining the campaign as an adviser would be a good thing. And since, then I’ve been gratified. And you can go on the president’s Facebook page. I’ve been the one putting together the national security policy planks for his campaign. I’ve done a number of interviews with Lara Trump—they’re available. And what I do appreciate about being on Trump 2020 is that The London Center’s fundamental philosophy is very Reagan-based. A lot of our fellows are very close to Reagan’s thinking on national security. And as the adviser to the campaign, I advise them to do Reagan-type stuff. It’s really not rocket science, it’s actually examining what worked in the Reagan years.

And so I try to impart the wisdom that I get from these folks into the campaign to say, “Hey, this is what I think may be best regarding our national security.” I found that they’ve been completely receptive to what I believe to be common-sense approaches. The president has seen what I’ve done for his campaign. And apparently he likes it, because he allows it to be posted on his Facebook. So I’ve been happily gratified that they actually do take my advice. And just a word, if you ask me to advise you and I show up and you don’t want my advice, don’t ask me to advise you. And I’ve been gratified by the fact these people are very open to advice. I’d like to believe the advice has been well-applied in his foreign policy over the past year.

Mr. Jekielek:  Excellent. Tony, thanks so much. I certainly appreciate speaking with you.

Mr. Shaffer: Thank you. It’s been great, and I appreciate your organization and being on with you.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Jan Jekielek
Senior Editor
Jan Jekielek is a senior editor with The Epoch Times and host of the show, "American Thought Leaders." Jan’s career has spanned academia, media, and international human rights work. In 2009 he joined The Epoch Times full time and has served in a variety of roles, including as website chief editor. He is the producer of the award-winning Holocaust documentary film "Finding Manny."