The Washington Post reported this afternoon that Gen. Michael Flynn’s name was never “unmasked” by outgoing Obama administration officials because it was never masked in the first place:
A Republican effort to determine who may have leaked the name of Michael Flynn in connection to his 2016 contact with the Russian ambassador has centered on the question of which Obama administration officials requested his identity be “unmasked” in intelligence documents.
But in the FBI report about the communications between the two men, Flynn’s name was never redacted, former U.S. officials said…
It was the FBI, not the NSA, that wiretapped Kislyak’s calls and created the summary and transcript, the former officials said.
“When the FBI circulated [the report], they included Flynn’s name from the beginning” because it was essential to understanding its significance, said a former senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive intelligence. “There were therefore no requests for the unmasking of that information.”
I obviously don’t know who the senior U.S. official is who made the argument about Flynn’s name being essential to understanding the significance of the report, but I have a guess. Maybe it’s former acting Attorney General Sally Yates who told Ryan Lizza nearly the same thing back in May 2017:
Yates declined to talk about any classified information, including underlying evidence in the Flynn case, but it seems clear that Flynn’s name was not masked in the reports on the phone call that she saw. She said, “I oftentimes would get intel reports that included the name of the U.S. person. Not because I or anybody else had asked for it to be unmasked, but because that intelligence only made sense if you knew who the identity of the U.S. person was, and that’s an exception to the minimization requirements.” In other words, the authors of these intelligence reports included the names, because the reports could not be understood without them. She noted that there was one other common instance in which an American’s name would be included: “If it’s evidence of a crime.”
Yates said that she never made an unmasking request, adding, “This idea that there’s this dramatic unmasking of a name—in my experience, that never happened.”
So this new report from the Post isn’t news because people have already said this on the record years ago.
Writing at National Review last weekend, Andrew McCarthy suggested it was likely Flynn’s name was never masked in the FBI report because for a couple of reasons. First, there was no indication it was unmasked. Second, he points to a text from Peter Strzok which indicated James Clapper gave a misleading answer about this in congressional testimony: “F*CK! Clapper and Yates through Graham questions are all playing into the “there should be an unmasking request/record” for incidental collection incorrect narrative.” In other words, Strzok knew that, contrary to what Clapper said to Congress, there would be no record of unmasking Flynn’s name.
McCarthy points out that Flynn was actually in the Dominican Republic when he took the call from Kislyak. He suggests the FBI likely got the intercept from some other agency that wasn’t subject to the rules of masking and unmasking:
I hypothesize, then, that Flynn was not unmasked in connection with the December 29 Kislyak call. Either the CIA monitored the call directly or a friendly foreign intelligence service — whether subtly tasked by U.S. intelligence or knowing that U.S. intelligence would be very interested — intercepted the call and passed it along, probably to the CIA. At the time, Kislyak was likely outside the United States, where the CIA would not have needed FISA authorization to monitor him. And while Flynn is an American citizen, he was not only outside the country, he was already regarded by the Obama-era intelligence community as a clandestine agent of Russia — i.e., not an innocent American citizen whose surveillance was merely incidental.
So while the unmasking report about Flynn’s name is interesting, it’s probably not directly related to the report of his call with Amb. Kislyak.