Yet More on the Wiretapping of Trump

About ten years ago, back in the days when I was flying between Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and Moscow (a flight of 9 hours) in economy class, I was involved in an altercation with a stewardess of either Aeroflot or Transaero, I don’t remember which. I was with my good pal and colleague Andrei and we’d just boarded and put our hand luggage in the overhead locker when the stewardess came to us and demanded we hand over the bottle of vodka we had brought on board. Andrei and I said we didn’t know what she was on about, and she told us she’s seen me in the airport putting a bottle of vodka into my backpack which I then brought on board, and this is not allowed. I protested vehemently and swore that she must have been mistaken because I did not bring a bottle of vodka on board and I most certainly didn’t have one in my backpack. She stopped short of insisting I open my backpack and let her inspect the contents, but the kerfuffle was enough to attract the attention of the senior steward. He listened to the stewardess and then turned to me, and once again I swore on all that is holy that I did not bring a bottle of vodka aboard. This seemed to satisfy him and he told the stewardess to drop it and leave us in peace. She went away absolutely fuming. Your humble blogger is not a pathological liar and he was indeed telling the absolute truth when he said he did not smuggle a bottle of vodka aboard the flight.

I did, ahem, smuggle a bottle of rum aboard, though.

I was reminded of this little incident when I read Streetwise Professor’s take on the Trump-Obama-Wiretapping accusations (I’ve linked to this before):

What Obama and his minions (and the Democrats and many in the media) say is likely to be correct, strictly speaking, but fundamentally misleading. In contrast, what Trump says is often incorrect, strictly speaking, but captures the fundamental truth.

When I said I’d not smuggled aboard a bottle of vodka I was, strictly speaking, telling the truth but my words were fundamentally misleading. The stewardesses accusations, while incorrect, captured the fundamental truth.

(Before I go any further, I might as well explain: Andrei had a mate who had a mother who worked at the airport and could get a bottle of something around the security check and hand it to him in the departure lounge. Fortunately Andrei prefers rum to vodka and so I was able to lie with a straight face. I don’t take any moral high ground here, but then I wasn’t looking for any: I was simply trying to make it through 9 hours of an internal flight across Russia in economy class. Andrei, being utterly shameless as many Russian men are, immediately called for the stewardess when we were airbourne and asked for two glasses, a bottle of Coke, and a lot of ice. Fortunately we got a different stewardess or I’d have died in my seat.)

Anyway, where was I? That’s right, the Trump wiretapping. I didn’t mention this at the time, but I found the GCHQ response to Trump’s claims to be rather revealing:

GCHQ rejected the allegations as “utterly ridiculous”. The unusual move by the agency to comment on the news came after Mr Spicer cited claims first made on Fox News earlier this week.

A GCHQ spokesman 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.”

At the time I thought “the lady doth protest too much, methinks”. If they weren’t hiding something, why break with precedent to comment? And why the outraged language? A simple denial would suffice, no? Commenter “Nemo” makes this remark at Tim Worstall’s:

GCHQ’s statement was a classic public sector equivocation that looked like a denial as long as you didn’t actually read it. Reduced to its salient points it said:

‘We were never asked to wire-tap the President-elect.’

So the US Government Party only had to ask for intel acquired at GCHQ’s own volition.

And as another commenter notes on the same thread:

“Wire tap” is indeed shorthand. It does however give an out, in the sense that they can say they weren’t wiretapped – and it would be true, technically, if you don’t make the sensible conclusion that Trump is using it as short hand for generic surveillance.

I say all this in response to a comment that Polkamatic left under my own post on the subject yesterday (his comments are more than welcome, by the way, as are everybody’s):

Trump claimed unambiguously that it was Obama who was targeting him with surveillance. How is this even remotely the same thing?

To which David Moore replies:

Do you think that in making that claim Trump meant that Obama was the one in the van with his ear to the headphone?

And also:

The Streetwise Prof was bang on the money with this one. Trump was, loosely, right and the Democrats/Media have been playing a game of semantics.

Indeed. Now I don’t credit Trump with some Machiavellian genius such that he chose his words carefully to entrap his opponents. I think he knew, probably from his own supporters inside the NSA, FBI, and CIA that his communications were being monitored one way or another and just hurled out the accusation against Obama to be annoying and, perhaps, get them panicking and off-balance. Whether he intended it or not, he’s now got the FBI Director, most of the media, and a whole load of others backtracking furiously. That’s not a bad effort for a single tweet.

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14 thoughts on “Yet More on the Wiretapping of Trump

  1. I did, ahem, smuggle a bottle of rum aboard, though.

    Not sure about rum in cold climes – vodka is popular there for a reason.

  2. It doesn’t matter that those people are “backtracking furiously” (if that’s even what they’re doing). Not one Trump-hating American, and oh my there are a LOT of them, will ever–ever–believe that St. Barack or his administration have done any spying of any sort, accidental or otherwise, on Trump or his people. Whatever the truth of the matter might be, it will be an utter falsehood in the minds of at least half of all Americans for the rest of their lives. The narrative has won.

    This is why I cringed when he came out with that accusation in the first place; his sloppy use of language has guaranteed that the truth of this situation–whatever it is–can’t be known until future generations of historians manage to tease it out.

    Imagine what an alternative-universe Trump, one that uses language carefully and precisely, could accomplish! I hate squandered opportunities.

  3. The engineer’s credo: it’s better to be approximately right than exactly wrong.

    It’s a pity that economists don’t adopt it too.

  4. “Imagine what an alternative-universe Trump, one that uses language carefully and precisely, could accomplish! I hate squandered opportunities”

    There is no universe, no matter how alternative, that a Trump could achieve this. Careful and precise is Ben Shapiro’s bag. Trump is a bloke throwing grenades that currently are at times heading in the right general direction. That could change on a dime, and if he doesn’t keep moving it’s quite likely he could walk straight into one of his own grenades.

  5. I had a comparable experience on the Canada-US border, where US customs detained me for a couple of hours. They discovered a half-dozen hand-rolled cigars, which would have been instantly confiscated if Cuban. Speaking absolutely truthfully, I told them they were a gift from a cousin of mine and he had not told me where he had got them. This worked and I got to keep them,

    Fortunately, they did not ask me if I knew that my cousin was shacked up with a gorgeous Cubana half his age and spent about a third of his time in Cuba.

  6. If I may split some hairs, this isn’t precisely correct:

    GCHQ’s statement was a classic public sector equivocation that looked like a denial as long as you didn’t actually read it. Reduced to its salient points it said:

    ‘We were never asked to wire-tap the President-elect.’

    So the US Government Party only had to ask for intel acquired at GCHQ’s own volition.

    The GCHQ statement actually boils down to “It didn’t go down like Andrew Napolitano said it did”, that is to say, “Obama didn’t ask us to spy on Trump.”

    Which, of course, he didn’t. He asked somebody who asked somebody who asked somebody, etc. If this happened, that is.

    Personally, I’m worried about Australian participation. Pretty sure we have easy access to all the NSA data thanks to Five Eyes cooperation, and Malcolm Turnbull (a) was already on record making disparaging comments about Trump, (b) has participated in an Obama attempt to fuck Trump over, (c) is a bootlicking toadie, (d) is greedy for money, power and respect, especially from people in the northern hemisphere, and (e) has the proper admixture of stupidity and an ironclad belief in his own cleverness to actually go along with something like this.

  7. Derp, I got sidetracked. Point being, GCHQ didn’t have to initiate spying on Trump at their own initiative.

  8. @Skawkbox,

    Reminds me of P.J.O’Rourke’s description of his enthusiasm for the Canadian tobacco industry and how a Montreal supplier would send him boxes of their fine cigars with the label “fabriqué à Canada” on them.

    And it was true; the boxes were made in Canada.

  9. Personally, I’m worried about Australian participation.

    Yes, Australia and Canada are in a neck-and-neck race to see who can become the most illiberal, SJW-controlled basketcase in the English speaking world.

  10. Not sure about rum in cold climes – vodka is popular there for a reason.

    I found the educated young men all drank rum and whisky; vodka was for the older folks and villagers.

  11. About Andrei and the bottle getting past the security.

    Perhaps you were subject to ‘grooming’ for possible recrutment in some capacity or the other?

    Most likely people with connections would enyoy reasonably priced drinks with ‘bring your own bottle’…

    But cosying up to the subject and exchange favours is classical recrutment tactics. And unless you actually know the friend and the mother who got the bottle around security, isn’t some connections to some special service on Andrei’s part most likely?

    The airhostess/manager incident could be part of expediting your bonding, and also checking how cool you are…

    Looking back on your time in Sachalin, do you think preparations to approach you were made?

    That they recruit assets continously, and step up the activities when under attack is preatty obvious.

  12. Perhaps you were subject to ‘grooming’ for possible recrutment in some capacity or the other?

    Ah no, definitely not. I knew Andrei only too well. 🙂

    Looking back on your time in Sachalin, do you think preparations to approach you were made?

    For half my time there I was running a scaffolding business. The FSB must have been pretty desperate if they were tapping me up.

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