[guest post by Dana]
From Eli Lake:
White House lawyers last month learned that the former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign, *according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.
The pattern of Rice’s requests was discovered in a National Security Council review of the government’s policy on “unmasking” the identities of individuals in the U.S. who are not targets of electronic eavesdropping, but whose communications are collected incidentally. Normally those names are redacted from summaries of monitored conversations and appear in reports as something like “U.S. Person One.”
But Rice’s multiple requests to learn the identities of Trump officials discussed in intelligence reports during the transition period does highlight a longstanding concern for civil liberties advocates about U.S. surveillance programs. The standard for senior officials to learn the names of U.S. persons incidentally collected is that it must have some foreign intelligence value, a standard that can apply to almost anything. This suggests Rice’s unmasking requests were likely within the law.
The intelligence reports were summaries of monitored conversations — primarily between foreign officials discussing the Trump transition, but also in some cases direct contact between members of the Trump team and monitored foreign officials. One U.S. official familiar with the reports said they contained valuable political information on the Trump transition such as whom the Trump team was meeting, the views of Trump associates on foreign policy matters and plans for the incoming administration.
(I would like to know who these unnamed officials are, and whether they are reliable. Is there a reason for them to remain unnamed? After all, even President Trump objects to the use of anonymous sources.)
David French cautions that we don’t know enough (yet) to be outraged, and also contrasts two basic assumptions and the subsequent responses therein:
If you’re operating under the assumption or strong suspicion that Americans working with Trump were engaged in improper communications with Russia, then the unmasking requests look a lot like due diligence. Also, if you have a baseline level of trust for the Obama administration, then it’s easy to imagine that unmasking was necessary or important for context even if conversations didn’t directly pertain to Russia but instead to other issues of “foreign intelligence value.” In such circumstances, unmasking looks a lot less pernicious.
However, if you’re operating under the assumption or strong suspicion that claims of Trump campaign collusion with Russia represent nothing more than malicious conspiracy theories, then the news takes on a much darker hue. Also, many others (like me) look at the Obama administration’s well-documented record of falsehoods and surveillance abuses and have a trust level for Susan Rice that hovers somewhere near zero. In this circumstance, unmasking looks a lot less like due diligence, and a lot more like an abuse of power.
With that, Adam Housley of Fox News reported this today:
Multiple sources tell Fox News that Susan Rice, former national security adviser under then-President Barack Obama, requested to unmask the names of Trump transition officials caught up in surveillance.
The unmasked names, of people associated with Donald Trump, were then sent to all those at the National Security Council, some at the Defense Department, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and then-CIA Director John Brennan – essentially, the officials at the top, including former Rice deputy Ben Rhodes.
The names were part of incidental electronic surveillance of candidate and President-elect Trump and people close to him, including family members, for up to a year before he took office.
Republican lawmakers are now calling for an FBI investigation into whether Susan Rice broke any criminal laws, and whether “the material gleaned from the Rice unmasking is the material fed to the media in an attempt to do political damage to the Trump administration and, if so, who was responsible for leaking it.”
Also, as of today, Rice has not responded to inquiries made regarding this latest news. But as Lake reminds us, last month Rice denied knowing anything about reports indicating that Trump and his transition staff had been swept up in incidental intel collection: “I know nothing about this,” adding, “I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that account today.”
(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)