A leftover from yesterday that shouldn’t be missed. Thanks to Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intel Committee and the man who first raised suspicions about improper “unmasking” in March, subpoenas have been issued to three Obama-era officials. Two are natsec people — Susan Rice and John Brennan, both of whom might have had good cause to “unmask” the identities of Trump staffers in the course of reviewing intelligence reports. But the third was a surprise. It’s Samantha Power, formerly the U.S. ambassador to the UN. Why would she be caught up in an “unmasking” review? She’s a diplomat, not an intelligence specialist.
“Unmasking” is the revealing in intelligence reports of the identities of Americans whose communications (or information about whom) have been “incidentally” intercepted during foreign-intelligence-collection operations.
Of course, the fact that a subpoena demanding information is issued does not necessarily mean the information exists. Nevertheless, the issuance of a subpoena implies that the issuer has a good-faith basis to believe it does. On that score, it has previously been reported that the committee’s chairman, Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), has reviewed intelligence reporting and detected instances of unmasking.
Were there to be information indicating that Ms. Power was involved in unmasking American identities in intelligence reports, significant questions would be raised. As ambassador to the U.N., Power, a long-time Obama adviser, held a diplomatic position. She was not an intelligence analyst. It is not immediately clear why the U.N. ambassador would be involved in the disclosure of American identities in intelligence reports — after the agencies that collected and analyzed the intelligence had decided such identities should be masked.
“Unmaskings are supposed to be rare,” noted the Wall Street Journal in an editorial, “and if the mere ambassador to the U.N. could demand them, what privacy protection was the Obama White House really offering U.S. citizens?” Watch the report Fox News ran on this embedded below. At 2:00, James Rosen flags an unusual question that Trey Gowdy asked Brennan at a hearing recently: “Do you recall any U.S. ambassadors asking that names be unmasked?” Hmmmm. Brennan doesn’t give him a categorical “no” either. Double hmmmm.
One big wrinkle, though. Technically, neither Power nor anyone else can “demand” that American citizens be “unmasked.” They can request it; the decision then falls to the NSA or FBI (whichever agency has the relevant surveillance transcript), which can deny the request if it has no obvious intelligence purpose. That is, if it’s true that Power was keeping tabs on Trump staffers, this scandal would be much bigger than her. It would implicate the NSA and/or the FBI in approving a dubious request, especially if, as Nunes has claimed, the “unmaskings” he saw had no obvious foreign intelligence rationale.
There’s another possibility, though. Maybe, notwithstanding Gowdy’s question, Power’s not being looked at because she requested an “unmasking.” Maybe someone else in a more plausible natsec position requested it and the unmasked transcript somehow found its way into Power’s hands. Remember, one of Nunes’s complaints in March about the intelligence he’d seen was that unmasked material had been “widely disseminated” within the Obama administration. If even someone as far-flung from the IC as Power had gotten hold of the material, that might explain what he meant. Power may have been subpoenaed so that the committee can find out who was passing intelligence to whom once they’d received it, properly, from the NSA or FBI.
Since we’re on the subject of improper sharing of intelligence, an intriguing report (also left over from yesterday) via John Crudele of the New York Post:
The Justice Department has gotten a warrant from the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — also known as the FISA court — to conduct electronic surveillance on a group of journalists who’ve been the recipient of leaked information, the source said.
The journalists are not the target, according to my source — and I say, thank goodness for that. Instead, the Trump administration is looking for the leaker. Who could it be?
Some in the administration are focusing on a retired, high-ranking military officer who held important posts in the intelligence service, according to the source.
A retired, high-ranking former military officer who held important intelligence posts and is supposedly being fed info by “holdovers from the Obama administration” in the White House? That points to James Clapper or Michael Hayden, and Hayden didn’t serve in the Obama administration (except for a few weeks very early on while he was waiting to be replaced). Triple hmmmm.