Primer: (Hint, Flynn was not a target to be unmasked, but remember the name Mary McCord and the unmasking list will be fascinating)
Back in 2017 to set up what is about to happen in coming days –>
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is accusing top political aides of President Obama of making hundreds of requests during the 2016 presidential race to unmask the names of Americans in intelligence reports, including Trump transition officials.
Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), in a letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, said the requests were made without specific justifications on why the information was needed.
“We have found evidence that current and former government officials had easy access to U.S. person information and that it is possible that they used this information to achieve partisan political purposes, including the selective, anonymous leaking of such information,” Nunes wrote in the letter to Coats.
The letter was provided to The Hill from a source in the intelligence community.
In March, Nunes disclosed that he had seen data suggesting Trump campaign and transition officials were having their names unmasked by departing officials in the Obama White House.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice and CIA Director John Brennan have acknowledged making such requests though they insisted the requests were for legitimate work reasons.
Nunes recused himself from his committee’s work on its investigation over Russia’s meddling in the 2016 campaign after a controversy over his charges about Obama-era unmasking.
The chairman had reviewed intelligence reports on White House grounds that he said showed unmasking of Trump officials by Obama aides. Democrats accused him of working with the White House to make the disclosures.
In Thursday’s letter, Nunes said the total requests for Americans’ names by Obama political aides numbered in the hundreds during Obama’s last year in office and often lacked a specific intelligence community justification. He called the lack of proper justifications a “serious deficiency.”
His letter noted requests from senior government officials, unlike career intelligence analysts, “made remarkably few individualized justifications for access” to the U.S. names.
“The committee has learned that one official, whose position had no apparent intelligence related function, made hundreds of unmasking requests during the final year of the Obama administration,” Nunes wrote. “Of those requests, only one offered a justification that was not boilerplate.”
Sources familiar with the Nunes letter identified the official as then-U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power.
Power did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Nunes also wrote that “Obama-era officials sought the identities of Trump transition officials within intelligence reports.”
Nunes said he intends to introduce legislation to address concerns about the unmasking process impacting Americans’ privacy.
Ordinarily, Americans whose email or phone data or conversations are intercepted by the National Security Agency without a warrant overseas are legally required to have their names redacted or masked with descriptions like “U.S. person 1” to protect their identities in intelligence reports.
But beginning in 2011, Obama loosened the rules to make it easier for intelligence officials and his own political aides to request that the names be unmasked so they could better understand raw intelligence being gathered overseas.
The change has been criticized by liberal groups like the ACLU and conservatives like Nunes because of the privacy implications.
Media late last week showed Ambassador Ric Grenell and Acting DNI Director walking into the Department of Justice holding a satchel. Now we may know the contents.
In part from ABC News:
Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell has declassified a list of former Obama administration officials who were allegedly involved in the so-called “unmasking” of former national security adviser Michael Flynn in his conversations with the former Russian ambassador during the presidential transition, a senior U.S. official tells ABC News.
Grenell, who remains the U.S. ambassador to Germany along with being the acting DNI, visited the Justice Department last week and brought the list with him, according to the official.
His visit indicates his focus on an issue previously highlighted in 2017 by skeptics of the investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia, specifically allegations that former officials improperly unveiled Flynn’s identity from intercepts of his call with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
In May 2019, Trump empowered Barr with declassification authority for his broader investigation into the Russia probe.
While the law requires that identifying information of U.S. persons picked up during foreign surveillance be “masked,” high-ranking intelligence officials can request the identities be revealed if they feel the information is necessary to further understand the intercepts.
Former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice has openly acknowledged unmasking the identities of some senior Trump officials during the presidential transition but has strenuously denied ever leaking any identities and said nothing she did was politically motivated. More here.