That’s … a lotta unmasking. The fact that Samantha Power is at the heart of the “unmasking” investigation in the House barely qualifies as news at this point, as her name has been floating around in connection with it for months. In fact, Trey Gowdy quizzed John Brennan about a mysterious ambassador and her strange unmasking requests at a House hearing all the way back on May 23. By mid-July the Free Beacon’s sources had identified her as a “central figure” in the probe. Note this quote from that piece:
“Unmasking is not a regular occurrence—absolutely not a weekly habit. It is rare, even at the National Security Council, and ought to be rarer still for a U.N. ambassador,” according to one former senior U.S. official who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.
Well, it wasn’t a weekly habit for Power, if Fox’s sources are to be believed. It was a daily habit:
Samantha Power, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was ‘unmasking’ at such a rapid pace in the final months of the Obama administration that she averaged more than one request for every working day in 2016 – and even sought information in the days leading up to President Trump’s inauguration, multiple sources close to the matter told Fox News.
Two sources, who were not authorized to speak on the record, said the requests to identify Americans whose names surfaced in foreign intelligence reporting, known as unmasking, exceeded 260 last year. One source indicated this occurred in the final days of the Obama White House.
When asked for comment, Power’s spokesman noted that she wasn’t just the ambassador to the UN, she was a member of the National Security Council. But so what? Note again what the senior official told the Free Beacon — even at the NSC, unmasking is rare. The Council also includes the head of OMB and the head of the National Economic Council, incidentally. Should Mick Mulvaney and Gary Cohn be unmasking American citizens in intelligence reports at will just because they’re members?
Here’s an easy way to gauge whether Power’s practices were appropriate: How did her volume of unmasking requests stack up to Susan Rice’s and John Brennan’s? Rice was national security advisor, Brennan was head of the CIA. If anyone in the Obama administration had reason to be unmasking U.S. citizens for valid intelligence purposes, it was them. You’d certainly expect Brennan to have made more unmasking requests than someone more peripheral to the intelligence process, like Power. So let’s know the numbers. How many unmasking requests per week on average were Rice and Brennan filing compared to her?
Another question: How many of Power’s requests were actually granted? An official can ask to have the redacted name of an American in an intelligence report revealed but it’s up to the FBI and NSA to grant that request. And they don’t do it lightly, as Fox notes:
“We [the NSA] apply two criteria in response to their request: number one, you must make the request in writing. Number two, the request must be made on the basis of your official duties, not the fact that you just find this report really interesting and you’re just curious,” [Mike Rogers] said in June. “It has to tie to your job and finally, I said two but there’s a third criteria, and is the basis of the request must be that you need this identity to understand the intelligence you’re reading.”
What was a UN ambassador doing in her “official duties” that required her to know the identities of so many Americans who turned up in intelligence reports? If it turns out she did in fact “just find this report really interesting” and was “just curious” and the NSA or FBI *granted* unmasking requests made along those lines then this scandal will blow up far beyond Power herself. A lone official trying to go rogue on intelligence by making a ridiculous number of unmasking requests is one thing. The FBI and NSA abetting her by granting those requests and outing Americans to someone who may have had no legitimate intelligence purpose in knowing who they are is another thing entirely. *If* that’s what happened here, Comey and Rogers will become the center of the probe, not Power. Why were their agencies not more exacting in demanding proper justification for unmasking, investigators will wonder, particularly given the alarming number of requests from Power and the fact that her job didn’t obviously require her to have this information?
One point in Power’s defense, though. What are the odds that she would be allowed to go on making hundreds of improper unmasking requests without it leaking and with no one stopping her? If the FBI and NSA were rejecting her applications daily, you would think someone would have stepped in at some point and either told her to cool it or whispered to the papers that she was abusing the process. And if the FBI and NSA were granting most of her applications, it’s hard to believe they were so systematically crooked that they would risk their institutional reputations and a major scandal to rubber-stamp requests made by a figure as tangential to the natsec process as Power. This wasn’t Brennan or James Clapper demanding the information, it was a diplomat who spent most of her tenure impotently defending Obama’s impotent Syria policy. Would Comey and Rogers gamble their careers by looking the other way at improper applications made by her for months on end?
Maybe Power had reason to suspect there were Americans working at the UN, maybe even on her own staff, who were quietly double-dealing with foreign powers in the building? That would be a legitimate intelligence purpose for unmasking, but why the UN ambassador would be left to make those requests instead of Brennan or Rice, I have no idea. American double agents at the UN would be a big deal, worthy of attention from the big cheeses of natsec.