Is Carter Page Stalking the FISA Process? Check Out His Trident Scholar thesis.

Journalists, pundits and other analysts routinely dismiss Carter Page as a “useful idiot.”[1] Anyone who watches his public appearances is struck by the circular and obfuscating manner in which Page presents himself. In addition to Page’s pertinacious obtuseness in public, various observers have pointed to such facts as the following:

(1) A Russian operative apparently referred to Page as an “idiot.”[2]

(2) Page received a “fail” on the oral presentation of his doctoral dissertation not once, but twice. (He was passed on the third attempt by new examiners.)[3]

(3)Page seemingly bungled his way into and out of the Trump campaign, all the while engaging witlessly with Russians (a long-term habit of Page’s) in a manner sure to draw attention to Trump’s campaign.[4,5]

Other evidences are advanced, besides these, but we can rest here.

For a few weeks, I’ve been musing over the puzzle of Page’s apparent intelligence. Consider some facts that run counter (as denoted by an apostrophe following the number) to the charge of “idiocy:”

(4') Page earned two Masters degrees and a Ph.D.[6]

(5') Page made it into the US Naval Academy.[ibid]

(6') Page won a place as a Trident Scholar.[7]

From these facts alone, it would seem entirely feckless to accept the charge that he is literally an “idiot,” without exploring further.

To this first round of counterexamples to the charge of idiocy, let’s add these additional facts:

(7') Page testified before Congress without an attorney[8]

(8') Page appeared on national television while being interviewed by no less an intellectual than Chris Hayes[9]

(9') Page was wiretapped by the FBI for the better part of a year and has been continually scrutinized by the Mueller investigation. [10]

(10') Despite all this scrutiny, Page has been charged with precisely… nothing (as of this writing).

I invite the reader to ponder —suppose Carter Page has not been charged with a crime because he has not, in fact, committed one.

Recently, while musing on these matters, I decided to find some of Page’s written work and read it. Would he sound as bad on paper as people say that he sounds “live”?

I put the following search terms into Google: Carter Page thesis pdf

A few links down, I found the following:

As of this moment, the link is still up. (Here is the text of the url: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a271110.pdf).

I read the whole paper, and I learned that, at least as a budding Naval officer, Carter Page was most definitely not an “idiot.”

I have a Master of Arts in Analytic Philosophy. I am trained to take apart analyses, in written or oral form. Perhaps Page’s Trident thesis is not a master work, but he is no slow coach. In particular, the circularity or confused thinking that seems to have beset his recent public appearances are plainly not present. He writes carefully and thoughtfully, and his conclusions, if controversial, are very well-informed.

It is not the purpose of this post to analyze Page’s thesis in depth. Perhaps another time. Rather, I want to draw attention to the fact that Carter Page is presently a living illustration of the main point of his Trident thesis.

In his thesis, he argues that the “balance of secrecy” between the executive and legislative branches of government is best understood as regulated [my term] primarily by political forces, rather than by such traditional considerations as national security or legislative fiat. By “balance of secrecy,” he means (something like) the amount of secrecy that each branch allows the other to maintain. (Typically, the executive branch tries to keep secrets, while the legislative branch tries to expose secrets, or at least be aware of the relevant ones.)

Crucially for our purposes, Pages concludes that one of the three primary ways in which the balance of secrecy is regulated politically is through the exposure of corruption in the executive branch, which leads to greater power to the legislative branch to identify and examine executive secrets. You can jump directly to page 104ff of his thesis for this part, but it is much more comprehensible, and more potent, in context. (If you are feeling worried at this point, you should definitely take the time to read the whole paper.)

Consider, then, the following additional facts:

(11) Carter Page is adept at saying a great deal while revealing nothing. As a sample of how Page has polished this skill to a fine art, consider this particular excerpt from the interview [revisit note 4] with Jason Zengerle of New York Magazine:

[…]as we walked through Manhattan that afternoon, Page assured me that he was playing a long game. “How do I say this without sounding overly confident or arrogant?” he mused. “No one is better prepared to have gone through this than me.” He flashed that familiar beatific smile. “Not only am I ready for it,” he said, “I savor it.”

(12) Carter Page was commended to the Trump campaign by Ed Cox[11], who watched first hand the spectacle of Nixon being impeached, together with the consequent changes to the “balance of secrecy” in the years following Nixon’s resignation.[12]

(13) Carter Page has stated that he wants that very FISA warrant application, which the FBI filed to justify wire-tapping him, to be made public.[13]

(14) The FISA process came to greatest prominence in the post 9/11 period, which is long after Page wrote the paper above (1993). In a bit of irony, it was none other than Robert Mueller who oversaw the implementation and refinement of the FISA process in the period since terrorism came to the foreground in American consciousness.[14]

My view? It is not unreasonable to ask whether Carter Page stalked a spot on the Trump campaign, while knowingly pursuing his activities with Russians, precisely because he knew that his activity, even if completely benign in actual content, would be viewed as suspicious and would, in all likelihood, result in a FISA warrant being issued to monitor his activities. Having successfully duped the Feds into wire-tapping him, he is now seeking to have the FISA application released — an unprecedented act.

Why, you ask? To set a precedent. Already, no less a publication than the New York Times has openly asked the government to release the FISA application on Page.[15] With one FISA application having been published to the general public, there would be a legal precedent for the publication of others…

When conducting this sort of analysis, it is always advisable to ask, “cui bono?” — who benefits?

We don’t know. But let’s consider one possible, speculative scenario.

Suppose there were a party who happened to know that there is some other FISA warrant application that implicates, or might seem to implicate, the executive branch in abuse of government surveillance capabilities — in short, of corruption. Suppose the party were acquainted with Carter Page and his senior thesis. As matters stand, Carter Page is practically a recipe cooked-up perfectly for the task of getting the public used to the idea of having a window into the full FISA process (not section 702 stuff, but the warrant-requiring part). Having gotten Page’s FISA application unsealed, the door would be opened to getting the more politically worrisome FISA application unsealed, as well.

Is Carter Page an idiot? No. Seriously, no, just… not. Please go over the evidence again, with a fresh mind.

But is he useful…? He may very well believe in what he is doing. It may support his particular ideology to see the FISA process become more transparent.[16] Whether that would be useful to the nation is not my concern herein.

But, for my part, I wonder whether some particular party is hoping to benefit.

UPDATE (2018–02–26 @ ~8:30pm EST)

I did some light editing.

In addition, it’s worth attempting to anticipate criticisms of the piece above.

For example, a critic might point out that the FISA process requires that evidence of criminality be presented before a warrant can be granted, then remind me that I argued above that Carter Page may not have committed any crime.

The critic’s point is well-taken, but it isn’t enough to undermine the main point of my piece.

The idea of this piece doesn’t actually require Carter Page not to have committed any crime — as I think on it, that was a bit of hyperbole on my part, to stimulate thinking and discussion. But suppose that you were a person trying to contrive circumstances under which a FISA application into activities of the executive branch might be considered so deficient, so bungled, yet so public, that the application needed to be exposed to the public in order to clear up the matter. How would you do it?

It only requires a bit of imagination to conceive scenarios in which substantial evidence of numerous, aggravated crimes is present, but no crime was committed.

For my purposes, the most straightforward scenario would be a person’s leaving a series of behavioral or other “breadcrumbs” that seem to indicate criminality, when (possibly) no crime has been committed— for example, (i) associating with known criminals; (ii) indicating interest in certain crimes; (iii) being in an unknown location when a crime was committed (having no alibi); (iv) having in one’s possession evidence that can be traced to a crime scene but no explanation for the possession. Honestly, we can multiply such scenarios endlessly.

Returning to Carter Page, by 2016, he had already been “on the radar,” so to speak, of US authorities for at least three years. It might be fairly straight forward for him to conceive circumstances that would trigger that interest again. He knew the FBI; he had worked with them.

If he happened to be intelligent, he might be able to talk a lot of nonsense that would make him seem like a legitimate target for a criminal justice investigation, even when he knew that he had not actually done anything wrong…

UPDATE (2018–02–26 @ ~8:45pm EST; modified this UPDATE at 2018–02–28 @ ~12:15am EST)

Major updates and revisions throughout. Facts have been absolutely numbered. The term “thesis” has been made to refer exclusively to Page’s Trident thesis. Significant editing.

Also, I do need to level one criticism at Page’s thesis.

The thesis shirks completely the burden of dealing with the distinction between facts and norms — roughly, what is the case versus what ought to be the case? This is relevant, because such a failure may have led to his erroneously concluding (for example) that merely because the balance of secrecy tends to be regulated by political processes, therefore it ought so to be regulated. I hope the reader concurs that this is a fallacious inference. Yet, such reasoning could have influenced his conduct.

Far from being a good reason for fomenting political exigencies (if indeed that is what Page is doing, as I have speculated), Page’s thesis (if granted as correct, for the sake of argument) could be taken as a good reason for better clarifying non-political means by which the balance of secrecy can be regulated.

UPDATE (2018–04–03 @ ~9:55pm EST)

It is interesting, is it not, that Vladimir Putin is frequently described as believing that Americans are deluded in thinking that their political system is so much better, nobler, etc.? (Try the following search in Google for his most recent pronouncements: putin’s opinion of the american political system )

Page was a middie in Russia in 1991 — two years before his thesis was finalized.

UPDATE (2018–04–10 @ ~11:55pm EST)

Added link to Carter Page’s return to “All In” on March 29th with Chris Hayes. See Reference [9].

The URL above (pasted into a browser) still produces a copy of Page’s thesis, as of this evening.

If not, interested parties can contact me for a copy.

REFERENCES

[1] Here is one recent example, picked at random… https://www.the-american-interest.com/2018/02/13/carter-page-useful-idiot/

[2]https://www.thedailybeast.com/russians-spies-thought-trump-advisor-carter-page-was-an-idiotbut-still-tried-to-recruit-him

[3]https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/22/trump-carter-page-phd-thesis-trump

[4]https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/18/magazine/what-if-anything-does-carter-page-know.html

[5]https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/09/the-mystery-of-trumps-man-in-moscow-214283

[6]To cite the Ph.D. is question-begging on my part, but… Page did win the Ph.D., in the end, didn’t he…? Multiple observers have practically convicted Page of having failed to earn a Ph.D. without any examination of the facts. Yet, among other problems with this narrative, we can’t even get a copy of the disputed dissertation on the public record, despite the whole world’s watching. Nor can we get the names and rationales of the examiners who eventually passed him. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carter_Page

[7]http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/358783-who-is-carter-page

[8]https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/11/07/us/politics/document-carter-page-russia-investigation-transcript.html

[9]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffmYUwM-up8; more recently, see https://www.msnbc.com/all-in/watch/carter-page-returns-to-all-in-1198350403907

[10]I haven’t found a good, concise, non-partisan summary of these facts. Read this summary by Voxhttps://www.vox.com/world/2018/2/1/16960270/3-memos-nunes-fbi-trump-russia-explained — but be sure to see some of Andrew McCarthy’s pieces in the National Review. Also, as the reader doubtless knows, the Schiff memo was released to the public (subsequent to publication of the Vox piece).

[11]https://www.timesunion.com/7day-state/article/N-Y-GOP-s-Cox-introduced-Carter-Page-to-Trump-12553410.php

[12]http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2014/09/nixon_son-in-law_ed_cox_on_the_difference_between_watergate_and_todays_opponent.html

[13]http://thehill.com/policy/national-security/371693-carter-page-i-wanted-illegitimate-fisa-application-released-memo

[14]https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/news/testimony/ten-years-after-9-11-are-we-safer

[15]https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/05/us/politics/new-york-times-carter-page-documents-request-unseal.html

[16] If I had ever read Dan Zak’s piece, I had forgotten it when I began this post. Zak doesn’t speculate on Page’s out-and-out right stalking the FISA process, as I have. However, Zak certainly provides evidence (and a better read) for the view that Page is not an idiot. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/the-curious-journey-of-carter-page-the-former-trump-adviser-who-cant-stay-out-of-the-spotlight/2017/11/15/f240cc40-c49e-11e7-afe9-4f60b5a6c4a0_story.html