In the late 1950s, when I was entering early adolescence, I became an amateur radio operator. It was like joining a very large audio-visual club whose geekiness was on steroids. Along with knowledge of electronics and Morse code, being a total techno-weirdo was an absolute pre-requisite.
The world back then seemed to be a much larger place, and communicating with foreign countries via the short-wave spectrum was a challenging and random proposition. So it was fun and exciting to communicate by code or voice with hams in remote parts of the planet. At least at first.
Unfortunately, the conversations were confined to exchanging names and locations, describing the strength and clarity of the other operator’s signal, and discussing the type of equipment and antenna being used. This never varied.
For example, I once had a chance contact with a Christian missionary in the far-away Belgian Congo. At the time, the Belgians were relinquishing colonial control, Katanga Province had declared independence, and a bloody civil war had broken out. The missionary briefly mentioned in passing that the communist-backed Simba rebels were lurking about, but so far so good. With that small detail out of the way, he then quickly moved on to truly important matters such as the fact that he was using a homemade transmitter, a Hammarlund HQ-110 receiver, and a dipole antenna. And that was that.
It made no difference whether I was communicating with Great Britain, Alaska, Kwajalein, or across the street. The conversation was always the same, and it became mind-numbingly boring. After high school, I let my ham license lapse and had no further contact with amateur radio until a few years ago, when I met an active operator at a social event.
Upon learning that I had once been a ham, he urged me to return to the fold. I responded by holding up my cell phone and pointing out the obvious. With this little device, I could use voice, email, or text messages to easily and reliably contact anyone else similarly equipped anywhere on the face of the earth. Equally important, I could speak to people who might have something more to talk about than signal strength and equipment. So why in today’s world would I or anyone else become a ham operator?
A Curious Question Indeed
That brings us to Nellie Ohr, holder of amateur radio call sign KM4UDZ. Ohr graduated from Harvard University in 1983 with a degree in history and Russian literature. She studied in the Soviet Union in 1989 and obtained a PhD in Russian history in 1990.
For those of you who may be tempted to read her 400-plus page PhD thesis, here’s a spoiler alert: in murdering untold millions, Joseph Stalin may have engaged in some “excesses” which, in her words, “sometimes represented desperate measures taken by a government that had little real control over the country.” Translated into simple English, she meant, “Hey, cut the guy some slack. Creating a proletarian paradise can be tough and anybody can get carried away.”
She is said to be fluent in the Russian language and an expert on cybersecurity. Her husband is Bruce Ohr, the former number four official in President Obama’s Justice Department.
According to a sworn court filing by Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson, she was hired by that firm to conduct opposition research on behalf of the Clinton campaign against candidate Donald Trump. In his statement, Simpson acknowledged bank records reflect that Fusion GPS contracted with her “to help our company with its research and analysis of Mr. Trump.”
At the same time, Fusion GPS retained the services of former British spy and FBI informant Christopher Steele to obtain derogatory information from his Russian sources about Trump. The final Fusion GPS product became the now-discredited eponymous Steele dossier, which James Comey’s FBI and Obama’s DOJ used to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants to spy on a Trump campaign member.
Who Are Nellie and Bruce Ohr?
The so-called Nunes memorandum by the Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee states Nellie Ohr was “employed by Fusion GPS to assist in the cultivation of opposition research on Trump” and added that her husband “later provided the FBI with all of his wife’s opposition research.” Sen. Lindsey Graham has stated publicly that she “did the research for Mr. Steele.”
We now know that, before the House Intelligence Committee, Simpson disclosed that he met personally with Bruce Ohr “at his request, after the November 2016 election to discuss our findings regarding Russia and the election.” That committee also learned that during the election campaign, Bruce Ohr met with Steele, the dossier’s author.
It has also come out that Bruce Ohr failed to report the source of his wife’s income from Fusion GPS on his DOJ ethics disclosure forms. Such disclosure is mandatory, and Ohr’s omission raises many questions.
For example, under the law, such an omission could be considered evidence tending to prove his consciousness of guilt. Why would he, in effect, conceal by omission his wife’s employment by the firm that produced the meretricious Steele dossier that his own employer, the Obama DOJ, submitted under oath to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) for authorization to spy on the Trump campaign and presidency? Was he trying to hide his connections with Fusion GPS? If so, why? And what inference should a jury draw from such concealment?
He is not alone in this regard. What about Nellie Ohr’s ham radio license?
Why Did Nellie Ohr Suddenly Become a Ham in 2016?
Ohr is a member of Women in International Security, which describes itself as supporting “research projects and policy engagement initiatives on critical international security issues, including the nexus between gender and security.” She has done cybersecurity consulting for Accenture, a politically connected firm, for which she gave a presentation on “Ties Between Government Intelligence Services and Cyber Criminals – Closer Than You Think?”
It is apparent that, between her own professional experience and her marriage to a top DOJ official, she was well aware of the ability of the National Security Agency to intercept and store every communication on the Internet. Did this knowledge have anything to do with her mid-life decision to become a ham radio operator and communicate outside cyberspace?
I got into amateur radio because I was a horny, zit-infested teenager with no hope of ever successfully interacting with members of the opposite sex. Faced with that reality, I sublimated my priapic energies into learning electronics and building radios. My sublimated adolescent urges were so strong that, on several occasions, I almost invented the Internet 20 years before the Pentagon and Al Gore got around to it.
That’s why I became a ham. So what’s Nellie’s excuse? Did she develop an overwhelming middle-aged desire to talk to geeks over the radio? Was this a case of Sudden Onset Geek Syndrome? Or is there some other less benign explanation?
What Was Happening When Nellie Ohr Got Her License
On May 23, 2016, she received a technician-level amateur radio license. The timing is significant. The presidential campaign was underway and she and her employer, Fusion GPS, were digging for dirt in Russia to use against Trump. Given her cybersecurity knowledge, was Nellie Ohr hoping to use non-cyber short wave communications to hide her participation in that nefarious effort from the NSA?
Recall that, in early 2016, NSA head Admiral Mike Rogers became aware of “ongoing” and “intentional” violations and abuse of FISA surveillance, which he subsequently exposed in testimony before Congress. Thereafter, pressure mounted within the Obama administration to fire him.
The week after the presidential election, when he was facing removal from his post, Rogers visited the president-elect at Trump Tower. On November 19, 2016, Reuters reported that Rogers’ decision “to travel to New York to meet with Trump on Thursday without notifying superiors caused consternation at senior levels of the [Obama] administration.”
The day following Rogers’ visit, the president-elect’s transition team vacated Trump Tower and moved its operations to New Jersey. Was this because Rogers had warned Trump that he and his transition team were being subjected to illegal government surveillance? While that is unknown, it is clear that Rogers was not and had never been an Obama team player, such that he and his agency posed a potential threat to Fusion GPS’s operation as well as the anti-Trump elements at the FBI and DOJ.
So, was Nellie Ohr’s late-in-life foray into ham radio an effort to evade the Rogers-led NSA detecting her participation in compiling the Russian-sourced Steele dossier? Just as her husband’s omissions on his DOJ ethics forms raise an inference of improper motive, any competent prosecutor could use the circumstantial evidence of her taking up ham radio while digging for dirt on Trump to prove her consciousness of guilt and intention to conceal illegal activities.
This type of circumstantial evidence can be quite powerful. For example, a video of a nun buying a bustier at Victoria’s Secret would not be direct evidence that she was having an affair. But it most assuredly would prompt a jury to seriously wonder about her motives and commitment to celibacy. The same can be said for Nelly’s ham license. Just what was she up to?
Undoubtedly further information on this topic will be forthcoming. But, in the meantime, it is fair to ask in the ham vernacular of yesteryear, “Dit-dah-dah; dah; dit-dit-dah-dit?” That’s Morse code for “WTF?”