Sara A. Carter
The FBI’s top lawyer is allegedly under investigation for purportedly leaking classified material featured in a Reuters report last year that disclosed a top-secret U.S. surveillance program built by Yahoo Inc, according to several government officials with knowledge of the investigation.
The Reuters report disclosed the software program developed by Yahoo Inc. for the U.S. government that allowed the intelligence community to search Yahoo emails containing specific characters or phrases. The U.S. government has not publicly acknowledged the program.
James A. Baker, the general counsel for the FBI, is allegedly under a criminal investigation for an apparent connection to the story published in October 2016, according to several government officials. The Reuters report exposed the top secret security program built by Yahoo Inc. in 2015, that has not been disclosed by the U.S. government. The program, which was built at the request of the U.S. government, allowed intelligence officials to scan what is known as "upstream data" using specific characters or phrase words, according to Reuters. Upstream data is information from a device such as phone or a computer to a server.
Reuters stated that Yahoo Inc. complied with a classified demand by the U.S. government, “scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said three former employees and a fourth person apprised of the events.”
FBI spokeswoman Carol Cratty said the bureau would not comment on Baker and did not confirm or deny the alleged criminal investigation. Attempts by Circa to reach Baker, who is reportedly a close confidant of former FBI Director James Comey, through the bureau were not successful.
DOJ officials would not comment on Circa’s inquiry but said, Attorney General Jeff Sessions will be making a announcement next week about the department’s “stepped up efforts on leak investigations.”
A senior government official, with close knowledge of the intelligence community, alleges Baker opposed the Yahoo Inc. software program and has in his position at the FBI held up Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants. The warrants allow the intelligence community to monitor person’s communications overseas and must be approved through the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).
“Under Baker, many FISA warrants languished for both counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations,” the source said.
A current intelligence official, who spoke on condition that they not be named due to the nature of their work, said exposure of programs, such as the alleged Yahoo Inc. software, “gives the enemy an upper hand and hinders U.S. national security.”
Under laws enacted in the 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the controversial practice of so-called “upstream” bulk collection allowed intelligence agencies to ask U.S. phone and Internet companies to provide customer data to aid foreign intelligence-gathering and tracking terrorists.
Yahoo Inc. told Reuters in October that "Yahoo is a law-abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States.”
Baker was appointed FBI general counsel by Comey in 2014 and has had a long and distinguished history within the intelligence community. After working as a federal prosecutor in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice during the 1990s, he joined the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review In 1996, according to his FBI bio.
From 2001 to 2007, during the Bush Administration, Baker was counsel for intelligence policy and head of the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review.
In 2006 Baker received the George H.W. Bush Award for Excellence in counter-terrorism—the CIA’s highest counter-terrorism award, according to his biography. During Baker's long and distinguished career he received the "NSA’s Intelligence Under Law Award; the NSA Director’s Distinguished Service Medal; and DOJ’s highest award— the Edmund J. Randolph Award."
He is a fellow at the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a lecturer at Harvard Law School.