When I was in the military, many years ago, I was in military intelligence. I was trained as a battlefield interrogator, which meant that between 1991 and 1995 I did nothing remotely related to my training. In my military intelligence unit, in addition to the “human intelligence” operatives (the interrogators), we also had soldiers trained as counterintelligence specialists, as well as signals interception and battlefield radar (the guys go way out in front of the main advancing column and use ground-based radar to figure out where the enemy tanks are — not exactly a safe job). I spent most of my time at Fort Hood in the center of Texas, so in the 1990s there was very little, if anything, for our counterintelligence colleagues to actually work on. But we would get stories from the old-timers about previous deployments in bases in Korea or in Germany (or perhaps even in West Berlin) where counterintelligence used to have a lot more to do. The hot young girls that showed an uncanny interest in this or that soldier had to have their backgrounds checked out. And the investigations to the possible compromise of even high-ranking military was part of the responsibilities of these 97B’s (the military job designation for counterintelligence agents).
My take away from this experience was that from top to bottom counterintelligence was always playing paranoid and running scenarios where they sought to disprove that person X or person Y had been compromised. And usually, that is what they found (that the person had not been compromised). But their job was to be paranoid; you did not just wait for obvious signs that a person had been recruited as an agent of the Soviets (or the East Germans, or the North Koreans) before doing anything.
So I am not at all surprised that elements within the national security state are constantly monitoring every known Russian agent operating in the United States, as well as any suspected Russian agents, and beyond that anyone who might be in a position to turn. Because that is how counterintelligence works. You are not successful if you are only reactive, you have to be proactive. You have to assume people have been compromised and prove to yourself that they have not.
With this background I am not at all surprised that members of the Trump campaign who had ties to Russia were being monitored. Nor do I find it at all likely that this was politically motivated. That is, I have no reason to believe that they were targeted because they were Republicans running a campaign against Democrats at a time when there was a Democratic president. Rather, they were monitored because they had ties to Russia. They were being monitored before the campaign, during the campaign, and are probably still being monitored. Because that is how counterintelligence works. You disapprove that a person has been compromised; you do not wait until the evidence shows you that they have.
Trump is upset because he believes there were wiretaps on Trump Tower. Maybe there were. Maybe there weren’t. What has been confirmed is that members of his campaign got surveilled for the duration of their contact with known agents of hostile governments, as part of the ongoing surveillance of these agents. As I mentioned, to anyone who has spent even a little time with a Tom Clancy novel, or who has any experience with how national security works, this is so routine as to be completely expected. That is how counterintelligence works. Foreign agents are always monitored. That is how the game is played. That is how every country does it. We do this to Germany, we do this in Russia, we do this in South Korea. In addition, innocence but “potentially dangerous-if-compromised” individuals are periodically tracked and monitored. The national security state tracks everyone with a potential to turn. That’s the price of a security clearance.
Now perhaps Trump and his senior advisers, who (except for a few ex-Generals) between them have very little experience in government might find this surprising. Apparently, they are finding many things about how the US government operates surprising. On subject after subject, they had no idea that things were done this way. So my current take on Trump’s tweet is that someone mentioned to him that there exist active wiretaps in the Trump Tower in New York, and Trump, knowing very little, simply went off the handle as if this was some big and new revelation. Sorry Donald, it is simply how counterintelligence works.