Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell has declassified a list of Obama administration officials who were behind the “unmasking” of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Multiple reports have cited U.S. officials who say Grenell has handed over the list to attorney general Bill Barr, who could release it “at any time.” Last week, the Justice Department dropped its case Flynn — who pled guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI — citing “newly discovered and disclosed information,”
American citizens whose communications are incidentally picked up by the intelligence community during surveillance are protected by law. But they can be unmasked by a select number of U.S. officials, and it is illegal to leak unmasked information or use it for political gain.
Former NSA director Admiral Mike Rogers testified in June 2017 that requests to unmask a U.S. citizen must be made “in writing” and “on the basis of your official duties.”
In March 2017, then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) warned that he had seen intelligence showing that “on numerous occasions, the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.”
“Details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration; details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting,” Nunes explained. “ . . . I have confirmed that additional names of Trump transition members were unmasked.”
A week after Nunes’s claims, former national security adviser Susan Rice told MSNBC in an interview that it was “absolutely false” the Obama administration utilized the reports for “political purposes,” but admitted that the Obama presidential daily briefing contained unmaskings.
“I received those reports, as did other officials, and there were occasions when I would receive a report in which a ‘U.S Person’ was referred to — name not provided, just ‘U.S. Person,’” Rice explained. “And sometimes in that context, in order to understand the importance in the report – and assess its significance, it was necessary to find out or request, who that U.S. official was.”
Official stats from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence show that the National Security Agency, which monitors overseas communications, unmasked an American’s identity approximately 9,200 times in 2016 and 9,500 in 2017. There were about 17,000 such actions in 2018 and 10,000 in 2019.