National Security & Foreign Policy

Issues ››› National Security & Foreign Policy
  • Birthers And Fringe Outlets Claim NSA Documents Back Up Trump’s Wiretap Lie

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    In order to back President Donald Trump’s false allegation that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, fringe outlets and fake news purveyors -- along with some right-wing media -- are hyping a claim from Infowars’ Jerome Corsi and Alex Jones that supposedly reveals National Security Agency (NSA) documents that show Trump was spied on for years. Corsi and the “sources” he and Jones rely on have been major proponents of the debunked myth that Obama’s birth certificate is fake.

  • FBI Director Puts To Rest Two Weeks Of Fox Lies About Trump's False Wiretap Claim

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Since March 4, President Donald Trump and Fox News have been feeding each other evidence and defenses to back up Trump’s false claim that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, ordered a “wiretap” at Trump Tower. Fox figures, including Andrew Napolitano, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly, have been backing up Trump’s claim, and Trump and White House press secretary Sean Spicer have in turn recycled their comments in their attempts to substantiate the original claim. On March 20, FBI Director James Comey debunked Trump’s original tweet accusing Obama of wiretapping, unequivocally stating, “I have no information that supports those tweets. … The Department [of Justice] has no information that supports those tweets.”

  • Donald Trump Jr. Liked Alex Jones Tweet Claiming That Obama Used British Intelligence To Spy On President Trump

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Donald Trump Jr. liked a tweet by Alex Jones pushing the baseless claim that President Barack Obama “went outside" the chain of command "to spy on Trump" during the 2016 election with the help of the British government. The Trump administration was heavily criticized after White House press secretary Sean Spicer pushed the same conspiracy at a March 16 press conference.

    On March 15, Alex Jones tweeted:

    Jones’ tweet linked to a March 14 Infowars piece with the headline “Judge Napolitano: Obama Used British Intelligence To Spy On Trump.” The unbylined article highlighted an appearance Napolitano made on Fox & Friends during which he said that “three intelligence sources told him if Obama asked an American agency for a wiretap on Trump, there would be a record of that request, but by using British agency GCHQ Obama avoided leaving any ‘fingerprints.’”

    Trump Jr. subsequently liked Jones’ tweet:

    Alex Jones and Andrew Napolitano are 9/11 conspiracy theorists who are not credible.

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer created an international incident by citing Napolitano’s Fox News report during yesterday’s White House briefing. The British government has strongly denied the spying claims and Trump officials have reportedly attempted to "soothe British officials" over the claim. 

    Trump Jr. has repeatedly promoted fringe conspiracy theories that originated with conservative media, including Infowars. He also has frequently tweeted out content from Alex Jones and Infowars editor Paul Joseph Watson (@prisonplanet).

    Jones claimed in February that President Donald Trump and his sons watch his videos and show “every night.”

  • Sean Spicer Caused An International Incident By Citing Fox News To Defend Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The U.S. government has issued a formal apology to the United Kingdom after White House press secretary Sean Spicer cited a Fox News report to accuse a British intelligence service of spying on Trump Tower on behalf of then-President Barack Obama.

    The British newspaper The Telegraph reports that U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster “contacted Sir Mark Lyall Grant, the Prime Minister's National Security adviser, to apologise for the comments. Mr Spicer conveyed his apology through Sir Kim Darroch, Britain's US ambassador.”

    Over the past two weeks, Spicer has issued a series of increasingly frantic statements to support President Donald Trump’s baseless conspiracy theory that Obama wiretapped him during the 2016 presidential campaign. Yesterday, after the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees said that they have seen no evidence to support Trump’s claim, Spicer read aloud from a series of news articles that he falsely claimed supported Trump’s statement.

    Amid this litany, Spicer cited Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano’s anonymously sourced March 13 statement that Obama had relied on the U.K. Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to obtain transcripts of “conversations involving President-elect Trump” with “no American fingerprints on this.”

    As I noted yesterday, in making the comments, Spicer imperiled our relations with our closest ally in order to buttress an obviously false Trump statement. Napolitano is a conspiracy theorist who has suggested the government may have been involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. His claim about British intelligence appears to have originated with a report on the state-sponsored Russian news network RT, and a British security official denied the claim, telling Reuters it was "totally untrue and quite frankly absurd."

    Spicer’s decision to make the same allegation from the White House podium drew a furious response from GCHQ, as The Telegraph reported:

    In a break from its normal practice of refusing to comment on allegations about its activities, a spokesman for GCHQ said: "Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct 'wiretapping' against the then president elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored."

    The increased scrutiny of Fox News in the U.K. comes at an inopportune time for the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, and its CEO, Rupert Murdoch. 21st Century Fox is currently trying to take full control of the United Kingdom satellite broadcasting company Sky, which oversees Sky News. Yesterday, the British culture secretary, Karen Bradley, referred the $14.3 billion bid to British media regulator Ofcom, in part over concerns about whether the company is “whether Fox is committed to the required editorial standards, such as accuracy and impartial news coverage,” according to The Guardian.

    The White House’s open insult to the British government comes after conservatives spent years trumping up baseless claims that Obama was trying to undermine our relationship with the United Kingdom.

    Right-wing media figures for years decried the return to the U.K. of a bust of Winston Churchill that President George W. Bush had kept in the Oval Office when Obama took office, citing the move as evidence that Obama hated the British and had grievously insulted our strongest ally. When Trump had the bust returned to the Oval Office following his inauguration, conservative media outlets swooned.

    Less than two months later, the White House has had to apologize to the British government for baselessly accusing the country of spying on Trump.

    UPDATE: There is now an apparent dispute within the Trump administration over whether the White House actually apologized to the British. "US officials... disputed whether the Trump administration had gone as far as an apology," according to BuzzFeed. But earlier this morning, CNN's White House reporter said that White House sources had told him McMaster and Spicer had apologized.

    UPDATE 2: Asked about Spicer’s comments by a German reporter at today’s joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump said that he and Merkel had “something in common” --suggesting the Obama administration had spied on them both. Trump added: “And just to finish your question, we said nothing. All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn't make an opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox. And so you shouldn't be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.”

    UPDATE 3: According to Fox News anchor Shep Smith, “Fox News cannot confirm judge Napolitano's commentary. Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the president of the United States was surveilled at any time in any way, full stop.”

  • Sean Spicer Cited A 9/11 Truther To Accuse The British Of Spying On Trump For Obama

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer cited Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano’s claim that the British intelligence service surveilled President Donald Trump on then-President Barack Obama’s behalf. Napolitano has promoted conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terror attacks and other events, and a British security official has denied the “absurd” claim, suggesting that Spicer is willing to imperil the “special relationship” with the United Kingdom to bail out the president.

    Over the past 24 hours, the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have said that they have seen no evidence to support Trump’s claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the presidential election. In an effort to defuse the situation during today’s press briefing, Spicer read aloud from a series of news articles that he falsely claimed supported Trump’s statement. This included Napolitano’s March 13 statement on Fox & Friends that, according to “three intelligence sources,” Obama relied on “GCHQ,” the “British spying agency,” to obtain transcripts of “conversations involving President-elect Trump” with “no American fingerprints on this.”

    Here is Spicer suggesting that our allies in the U.K. spied on the current president on behalf of his predecessor, based on Napolitano’s reporting:

    And here is Napolitano telling Alex Jones, the founder of the 9/11 Truth movement -- which claims the U.S. government carried out the 2001 terror attacks -- that it is "hard for me to believe that" World Trade Center Building 7 "came down by itself," and that "twenty years from now, people will look at 9/11 the way we look at the assassination of JFK today. It couldn't possibly have been done the way the government told us":

    Napolitano has pushed a wide array of conspiracy theories over the years, including floating the possibility that Osama bin Laden was still alive and the government was “pulling a fast one to save Obama's lousy presidency."

    The suggestion that Obama asked British intelligence to surveil British intelligence appears to originate in part from conspiracy theorist and former CIA official Larry Johnson, who made the claim during an interview on state-sponsored Russian news network RT. The interview was widely circulated by hyperpartisan and conspiracy theory websites in the days before Napolitano’s appearance.

    A British security official denied the claim on March 14, telling Reuters it was "totally untrue and quite frankly absurd." But now it’s been promoted from the podium by the president’s spokesman.

    Spicer also cited commentary from Fox host Sean Hannity to support Trump’s claim. As he was speaking from the podium, Hannity was on his radio show suggesting that President Obama and U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson, who last night granted a temporary restraining order against Trump’s revised Muslim ban, may have been “best friends in Hawaii” and used drugs together.

  • Fox News Conspiracy Theory That Obama Asked British Intelligence To Wiretap Donald Trump Echoes RT Interview

    Spread By Infowars, Reddit, Breitbart, And Other Conspiracy Sites, The Wiretap Claim Goes Back To The Person Who Said There Was An Obama "Whitey" Tape

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Fox News’ senior judicial analyst, Judge Andrew Napolitano, claimed that former President Barack Obama asked a British intelligence agency to spy on President Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign and the transition period and to provide the former president with transcripts of Trump's conversations. Napolitano’s claim can be traced in part back to an interview on the state-sponsored Russian network RT with a former CIA official who has accused John Kerry of war crimes, spread the 2008 rumor about a supposed recording of former first lady Michelle Obama “railing against ‘whitey,’” and now is floating "sedition" charges against former Obama officials.

  • New DHS Senior Adviser Pushed "Mosque Surveillance Program,” Claimed That Muslims "By-And-Large" Want To Subjugate Non-Muslims

    ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Former Florida radio host and Navy intelligence officer Frank Wuco has been serving as a senior White House adviser for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) since President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Wuco suggested in 2014 that banning visas from “Muslim nations” is “one of these sort of great ideas that can never happen”; warned that Muslims “by-and-large” will “subjugate and humiliate non-Muslim members” and enact Sharia law; and claimed that a "mosque surveillance” program is a key anti-terrorism tool. 

  • Report: Trump Is Wrong, Media Disproportionately Overreport Terror Attacks By Muslims

    Media’s Unbalanced Coverage Of Terrorism Leaves Americans With “An Exaggerated Sense Of That Threat”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog published a report that found that news media give “drastically more coverage to attacks by Muslims, particularly foreign-born Muslims -- even though those are far less common” than terror attacks committed by non-Muslims. The finding debunks President Donald Trump’s suggestion that the media underreport terror attacks by Muslim perpetrators.

    On February 6, Trump baselessly claimed that terror attacks are “not even reported, and in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn't even want to report it." The White House then released a list of “78 major terrorist attacks targeting the West that were executed or inspired by ISIS since September 2014.” The administration primarily listed attacks committed by Muslims, omitted any mention of right-wing terrorism, and included several attacks that were in fact reported extensively. Trump and White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway also both have referenced terror attacks allegedly committed by Muslims that actually never happened.

    Trump’s false claim is just one facet of his ongoing campaign to demonize and fearmonger about Muslims; he has also on several occasions stated his intent to ban Muslims from the United States. But in fact, Muslims (and others mistaken for Muslims) in the United States are often the target of violence from white supremacists, and their voices are underrepresented in the news media, both generally and also in discussions of issues that directly and disproportionately impact them.

    The authors of the report published in the Post on March 13 found that of the 89 terror attacks identified by the Global Terrorism Database between 2011 and 2015 in the U.S., 12.4 percent were committed by Muslims and 88 percent by non-Muslims, but that attacks by Muslims received 44 percent of news coverage about terror attacks. The disparity was even more extreme in cases where the attacker was a foreign-born Muslim. Even after they controlled for a “host of factors,” attacks by Muslims perpetrators received an average of 4 ½ times more coverage. “In other words,” the researchers wrote, “whether intentional or not, U.S. media outlets disproportionately emphasize the smaller number of terrorist attacks by Muslims — leading Americans to have an exaggerated sense of that threat.” From the March 13 report:

    Of the 89 attacks, 24 did not receive any media coverage from the sources we examined. The small proportion of attacks that were by Muslims — remember, only 12 percent — received 44 percent of the news coverage. In only 5 percent of all the terrorist attacks, the perpetrator was both Muslim and foreign-born — but those four attacks got 32 percent of all the media coverage.

    [...]

    In real numbers, the average attack with a Muslim perpetrator is covered in 90.8 articles. Attacks with a Muslim, foreign-born perpetrator are covered in 192.8 articles on average. Compare this with other attacks, which received an average of 18.1 articles.

    [...]

    But even controlling for [a host of factors], attacks by a Muslim perpetrator get, on average, about 4½ times more coverage. In other words, whether intentional or not, U.S. media outlets disproportionately emphasize the smaller number of terrorist attacks by Muslims — leading Americans to have an exaggerated sense of that threat.

    [...]

    Our own research, and that of our colleagues, shows that people are more likely to consider an attack to be terrorism when the perpetrator is Muslim. That’s true, even though the chance of an American being killed by an foreign-born terrorist, measured over the past 40 years, is 1 in 3.6 million each year, as a recent Cato Institute report noted.

    But since the news media focus so disproportionately on attacks by Muslims, particularly foreign-born Muslims, it’s no wonder that so many Americans think that these groups make our country less secure.

  • Locked-Out Media Watch While Trump Administration Retreats Into Secrecy

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    “We want to ensure at all times, if confirmed, that the secretary of state and the State Department is fully transparent with the public.” - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at his January 11, 2017, confirmation hearing.

    On Tuesday, bureau chiefs for major news organizations held a conference call to discuss the fact that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is not going to allow the press to travel with him on his plane during an upcoming trip to Asia. According to Poynter.org, which reported on the call, not allowing reporters on Tillerson’s government plane would be would be “very unusual, if not unprecedented, certainly in recent annals, with substantial access given by recent Secretaries of State, including John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice.”

    As Poynter explained, “[T]he logistics of keeping up with [Tillerson] by assembling stringers or hopscotching about on commercials flights makes coverage exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.” According to CNN, a senior official "told reporters Tuesday Tillerson prefers to travel on a smaller plane and 'carries a much smaller footprint.'" Tillerson’s plan to exclude the press from traveling with him overseas represents a stunning State Department policy reversal, while further cementing his image as a secretive cabinet figure who has had virtually no contact with journalists since being sworn in. “The secretary of state has given only a handful of prepared statements to the press and has not taken any questions,” CNN noted.

    That veil of secrecy has quickly emerged as the hallmark for this shadowy administration.

    It’s important to note that while President Trump’s ongoing war on the press has received most of the attention this year as he threatens journalists and restricts their access, there are plenty of indications that the rampant secrecy and disdain for transparency is widespread. “The retreat from the press has taken place administration-wide,” Politico noted.

    There seems to be a collective closing of the gates now underway in terms of the federal government separating itself from journalists.

    Just look at what unfolded on Monday:

    • Tillerson, along with Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, held an event with journalists to announce the administration’s latest attempt to restrict travel to the U.S. from six Muslim-majority countries. But none of the men responded to press questions about the controversial initiative.
    • Unlike how the administration treated the original travel ban signing, Trump signed the revised travel ban executive order without photographers or reporters present to record the event.
    • When the White House held a background conference call with reporters to discuss the updated travel ban it did not identify officials on the call, which prompted a New York Times reporter to tweet:

    The next day, NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell was escorted from a photo-op with Tillerson and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin after trying to ask several questions. The questions were "met with silence."

    All of that constitutes an historic effort by the Trump administration to lock out the press from the government’s official duties and business.

    This, of course, comes after the White House’s radical move to banish several major news outlets from a press “gaggle,” likely because the administration was unhappy with what the organizations were reporting. What followed was a highly unusual, weeklong blackout in terms of televised press briefings from White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

    That drawing of the curtain is part of a larger administration effort to march back transparency. For instance, in recent weeks there’s been a paucity of senior administration officials available for on-the-record interviews. Traditionally, senior officials, including cabinet members, have been made available for in-depth interviews, especially on the Sunday morning shows. But not the Trump team.

    The White House seems to have specifically singled out CNN, repeatedly, and refused to provide officials for interviews there.

    Overall, the administration remains reluctant to engage. Just six weeks into Trump’s term and Sunday morning show producers have been reduced to booking (or not booking) the White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for the weekly programs.

    Those who didn’t decline Sanders might’ve wished they had. In her appearance on ABC’s This Week, when confronted about Trump’s wholly unfounded claim that former President Barack Obama had bugged Trump Tower, Sanders said, “I will let the president speak for himself,” to which host Martha Raddatz responded, “You’re his spokesperson.”

    The next day, Sanders appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America and tried to argue that Trump’s fantastic claims about Obama and wiretapping were supported by mainstream news reports. (They’re not.) Watching Sanders’ spectacle of unending misinformation and non sequiturs, New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen tweeted, “You have to use terms like sadism to describe the WH press office now.”

    Unable to explain or add context, Trump’s press office remains of little use to working journalists and signifies the administration’s sustained retreat from information.

    Perhaps nowhere outside the West Wing is that retreat more apparent than at the State Department, which for the first six weeks of the Trump administration essentially shut off all communication with the public and the press.

    Between January 20 and March 6, there were no State Department press briefings. This, despite the fact the media Q & A’s “have been held on a near-daily basis on weekdays since the 1950s, when John Foster Dulles was secretary of state,” according to the Washington Times.

    The only explanation given for the State Department silence under the Trump team was that they “needed time to get organized.” But note that the Obama administration quickly began daily State Department briefings as soon as Hillary Clinton was sworn in as secretary of state on January 22, 2009.

    Under Trump, the State Department’s chief spokesperson wasn’t even hired until last week. Tillerson himself is still lacking key deputies. “Of the 44 highest-ranking positions at the State Department, the Trump administration has filled one: Tillerson's,” Bloomberg reported last week. (To date, just a handful of ambassadors have been appointed.)

    On Tuesday, the State Department finally held its first press briefing, but reporters suspect future briefings will be drastically scaled back to perhaps just twice a week. That would represent another sweeping break from the department’s tradition of media accessibility.

    And now we get word that Tillerson’s not bringing the press on his plane for his trip to Asia.

    Recall that during his confirmation hearing in January, Tillerson was specifically asked by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) whether his State Department would maintain open and transparent relations with the press, including reporters traveling with him.

    He insisted it would:

    During the hearing, Booker noted that his staff had tallied the number of press interactions Hillary Clinton and John Kerry had had over the years while serving as secretaries of state. The total came to nearly six thousand.

    To date, Tillerson has had almost no interactions. The gates are going down, and the press is being left outside.

    UPDATE: 

    Poynter reported Thursday that “D.C. bureau chiefs from major news organizations, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the wire services, Fox News and CNN sent a letter to the State Department earlier this week protesting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's decision to ditch reporters on his upcoming trip to Asia.”

    Their letter, which was printed in full by Poynter, is below:

    Dear Mr. Hammond and Ms. Peterlin,

    We are the Washington bureau chiefs and editors of major print, wire, television and radio news organizations. We are writing to request a meeting with both of you as soon as possible to discuss press access to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and coverage of American foreign policy going forward.

    We were deeply concerned to hear that Secretary Tillerson plans to travel to Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo to hold key meetings about some of the most important foreign policy issues for the United States without any traveling press. Not only does this situation leave the public narrative of the meetings up to the Chinese foreign ministry as well as Korea’s and Japan’s, but it gives the American people no window whatsoever into the views and actions of the nation’s leaders. And the offer to help those reporters who want to travel unilaterally is wholly unrealistic, given the commercial flight schedules, visa issues and no guarantee of access once they are there.

    But the issues go beyond just the March 14-19 trip and affect the day-to-day coverage of the nation’s top diplomat and U.S. relations with the rest of the world.

    Please let us know when a small group of us could come by to see if we can work out an arrangement that suits all of us.

    Thank you,

    Wendy Benjaminson
    Acting Washington Bureau Chief
    The Associated Press

    Bryan Boughton
    Fox News Channel
    Washington Bureau Chief

    Elisabeth Bumiller
    Washington Bureau Chief
    New York Times

    Edith Chapin
    Executive Editor
    NPR

    Paul Danahar
    BBC Americas Bureaux Chief

    Sam Feist
    CNN Washington Bureau Chief

    Peter Finn
    National Security Editor
    The Washington Post

    Keith Johnson
    Acting Managing Editor, News
    Foreign Policy

    Weston Kosova
    Washington Bureau Chief
    Bloomberg

    David Lauter
    Washington Bureau Chief
    Los Angeles Times/Chicago Tribune

    Yolanda Lopez
    Central News Director
    VOA

    David Millikin
    North America bureau chief
    AFP