NSA places its Trump-appointed lawyer on administrative leave, pending probe

NSAAMERICA’S LARGEST SPY AGENCY, the National Security Agency, has reportedly placed on administrative leave its general counsel, who was installed on orders by the White House just hours before the end of Donald Trump’s presidency. Michael Ellis worked as an aide to Representative Devin Nunes (R-Ca) until 2017, when he joined the White House as the senior associate counsel to President Trump and deputy legal advisor to the National Security Council (NSC). In 2020 he was promoted to NSC’s senior director for intelligence.

Last November, days after losing the presidential election, Trump attempted to appoint Ellis as NSA general counsel —effectively the chief legal officer at the spy agency. There was speculation that Trump’s move was part of an effort to declassify documents that he believed would harm the reputation of his domestic political enemies. But the NSA resisted the move, with its director, General Paul Nakasone, allegedly dismissing it as “an attempt to burrow a political appointee [who is] not qualified for the post into a career civil service position”. The Trump administration persisted, however, and last week the then-acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller ordered General Nakasone to appoint Ellis, as instructed, effective by 6:00 pm on January 16. The NSA continued to stall the move, but it eventually appointed Ellis as its general counsel at 6pm on January 19.

Now, however, it appears that Ellis has been placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation into his NSA appointment, which has been launched by the Department of Defense’s Office of the Inspector General. According to The Washington Post, the investigation concerns “the circumstances of [Ellis’] selection” to serve as NSA’s general counsel. CBS News cites “a source familiar” with the case, who claims that Ellis is also facing allegations that he may have mishandled classified documents.

The NSA said it would not “comment on personnel matters”. The Department of Defense’s Office of the Inspector General said it would not confirm nor deny that Ellis was under investigation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 January 2021 | Permalink

NSA director claims Bolton’s book would cause ‘irreparable damage’ to US secrets

Paul NakasoneThe director of America’s largest spy agency claims in a signed affidavit that a forthcoming book by John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, would critically compromise intelligence secrets if published. Bolton served in that capacity from April 2018 until September 2019. His memoir of his time as President Trump’s national security advisor, titled The Room Where It Happened, is scheduled for publication on Tuesday.

But the White House has sued Bolton, claiming that he did not follow the requirements of his pre-publication screening process by government officials. President Trump’s legal team also claims that, if published, the book would damage critical areas of United States national security.

On Wednesday, the White House’s stance on the book was affirmed by the director of the National Security Agency, General Paul M. Nakasone. In a signed affidavit filed in US District Court in Washington, Gen. Nakasone said he had been asked by the legal adviser of the National Security Council to review “a limited portion” of the draft manuscript of Bolton’s book. He added that he had identified “classified information” in that portion of the manuscript, some of which was classified at the Top Secret/Sensitive and Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) level.

According to Gen. Nakasone’s affidavit, “compromise of this information could result in the permanent loss of a valuable SIGINT source and cause irreparable damage to the US SIGINT system”. SIGINT refers to the gathering of intelligence by intercepting communications signals in the form of information exchanged orally between people or mediated via electronic means.

Gen. Nakasone goes on to state that the unauthorized disclosure of the information contained in Bolton’s book could “reasonably […] be expected to result in exceptionally grave damage” to US national security. This includes causing “considerable difficulties in US and allied relations with specific nations”. The NSA director does not detail the precise damage that Bolton’s revelations could cause to US national security, stating only that the information would compromise an intelligence-collection “capability” that “significant manpower and monetary investments have been and continue to be made to enable and maintain”.

Alongside Gen. Nakasone’s affidavit, the Department of Justice submitted an emergency filing on Wednesday, seeking to block the publication of Bolton’s book on national security grounds. Another affidavit was filed on Wednesday by John Ratcliffe, President Trump’s newly appointed Director of National Intelligence.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 June 2020 | Permalink