A top FBI intelligence analyst under investigation for failing to properly vet the Steele dossier before it was used to obtain invalid warrants to spy on a former Trump campaign aide appears to have violated his own “Golden Rule” for government spying.
A member of the International Intelligence Ethics Association, Brian Auten has lectured since 2010 on “Intelligence and Statecraft” at Patrick Henry College in Virginia, where until recently he was listed as an adjunct professor.
“National security investigations are not ethics-free,” Auten wrote in a magazine article published on Sept. 23, 2016, as he was using the thinly sourced, error-ridden and uncorroborated dossier to try to support a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant to electronically eavesdrop on Trump adviser Carter Page.
“When I teach the topic of national security investigations to undergraduates at a Christian college,” he added, “we cover micro-proportionality, discrimination, and the ‘least intrusive standard’ via a tweaked version of the Golden Rule—namely, if you were being investigated for a national security issue but you knew yourself to be completely innocent, how would you want someone to investigate you?”
When Senate investigators last year quizzed him about his magazine remarks, however, Auten denied teaching about such ethical matters.
“Do you teach a course or have you ever that deals in some way, shape, or form with the ethics of intelligence or, more specifically, the ethics of spying?” asked Arthur Baker, then-senior investigative counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee, during a closed-door hearing last October—the transcripts of which were only recently released.
“I’ve never taught a course on that, no,” Auten replied. “I have written an article about the ethics of spying. I’ve just never taught a course on the ethics of spying.”
He seems to have been splitting hairs here. In his 2016 Providence Magazine article—headlined “Just Intelligence, Just Surveillance, and the Least Intrusive Standard”—Auten wrote that when he taught his national security class at Patrick Henry, he covered the ethics of the government conducting surveillance and investigations of subjects. He suggested the FBI should apply “the least intrusive standard” when it considers surveilling citizens under investigation to avoid harm to “a subject’s reputation, dignity and privacy.”
Brian Auten is no longer listed among the college’s adjunct professors. He was removed from the Patrick Henry website after RealClearInvestigations published a story last July first identifying him as the anonymous “Supervisory Intelligence Analyst” singled out in a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general for cutting corners in the dossier verification process. The FBI heavily relied on the discredited dossier to monitor Page as an alleged Russian agent for almost a year. Page was never charged with a crime and is suing the FBI, including Auten, for $75 million.
Auten also is no longer listed as a member of the college’s Strategic Intelligence Board of Advisors. Patrick Henry’s communications director did not reply to requests for an explanation for Auten’s removal from the website. But a faculty spokesman confirmed over the phone that he is no longer teaching there.
This is not the first time Congress has questioned Auten’s own ethics. Last year, former Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chair Ron Johnson doubted the analyst’s candor in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray.
“We are deeply troubled by the grossly inaccurate statements by the Supervisory Intelligence Analyst,” they wrote.
The senators were referring to answers Auten gave Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz regarding dossier author Christopher Steele’s primary source, Igor Danchenko, whom RCI also first outed. According to internal FBI documents recently declassified by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Danchenko had been under FBI counterintelligence investigation as a possible Russian agent from 2009-2011. As early as January 2017, Auten learned that some of Steele’s reporting possibly “was part of a Russian disinformation campaign,” and in February 2017, he received a second report that another part of Steele’s reporting was “the product of [Russian Intelligence Services] infiltrating] a source into the network.”
Yet Auten, who remains in his position at FBI headquarters, told Horowitz’s inspectors that “he had no information as of June 2017 that Steele’s election reporting source network had been penetrated or compromised [by Russian intelligence].”
Auten is still supervising analysts at FBI headquarters. He also lectures and helps train rookie analysts and agents at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va.
This article was written by Paul Sperry for RealClearInvestigations.