The Obama administration requested the “unmasking” of nearly three times as many United States citizens under surveillance during the 2016 presidential election than the previous year.
According to the “Statistical Transparency Report Regarding Use of National Security Authorities” released by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) last week, 1,934 Americans were unmasked by the Obama administration in 2016. The number tripled from the year prior when the administration only unmasked the identities of 654 citizens.
The DNI’s report explains the process and guidelines for “unmasking” American citizens when requested by another branch of the federal government:
Recipients of NSA‘s classified reports, such as other Federal agencies, may request that NSA provide the true identity of a masked U.S. person referenced in an intelligence report. The requested identity information is released only if the requesting recipient has a legitimate “need to know” the identity of the U.S. person and has the appropriate security clearances, and if the dissemination of the U.S. person’s identity would be consistent with NSA’s minimization procedures (e.g., the identity is necessary to understand foreign intelligence information or assess its importance). Furthermore, per NSA policy, NSA is allowed to unmask the identity for the specific requesting recipient only where specific additional controls are in place to preclude its further dissemination and additional approval has been provided by a designated NSA official.
Were those guidelines actually followed or did the Obama administration? The chart below doesn’t answer the question in its entirety, but it does show an important pattern under Obama.
The report doesn’t offer any explanation for why the administrations behavior dramatically changed, either. The report was released at the end of April, meaning it was compiled by James Clapper, the former DNI under Obama from August 9, 2010 until January 20, 2017.
Uncovering the extent to which the Obama administration unmasked American citizens became a global story when president Trump sent out a tweet on March 4 accusing former President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower in New York.
On April 3, just one month later, Bloomberg published a report indicating that White House lawyers became aware in February of 2017 that Susan Rice, Obama’s former national security adviser, requested the “unmasking” of several Americans citizens in relation to the Trump campaign.
In March, Rice sat down for an interview with “PBS NewsHour,” where she was asked point-blank whether or not she had any knowledge of the wiretapping reports coming from the Trump administration.
“I know nothing about this,” she said. “I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that account today.”
Last week, Rice declined Sen. Lindsey Graham’s request to offer testimony to a judiciary subcommittee hearing on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Had Rice accepted the invitation, she would have been asked to explain whether or not she had any knowledge or involvement in the unmasking of Trump campaign officials.
After she denied the request, President Trump tweeted: “Susan Rice, the former National Security Advisor to President Obama, is refusing to testify before a Senate Subcommittee next week on allegations of unmasking Trump transition officials. Not good!”
On Thursday, Rep. Trey Gowdy told Fox News that Congress may subpoena Rice in order to compel her to testify.
“There are things called subpoenas. You shouldn’t have to use it with a former national security adviser, but if you do, you do.”
“Members of Congress don’t pick the witnesses. Lawyers don’t pick witnesses. The facts pick the witnesses,” Gowdy quipped. “And whether Ambassador Rice likes it or not, she’s a really important fact witness.”
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