“Unmasking” became a hot-button issue when it was revealed that former National Security Adviser Susan Rice unmasked the identities of Trump associates.
Though Rice had been on a softball press circuit, she immediately shut down communication and refused to testify before Congress after the unmasking story broke.
Unmasking for political purposes is illegal. It’s not yet clear if Rice did just that, but the groundwork for such a slippery slope was put into motion years prior.
Barack Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper laxed the rules on unmasking back in 2013.
From Washington Examiner:
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper revised rules in 2013 in a way that made it easier to “unmask” the names of lawmakers or congressional staffers who are incidentally caught in foreign surveillance.
The new procedures implemented by Clapper uprooted the previous set of rules that had been in use for just over two decades, according to a report from The Hill.
The report relied in part on a newly released memo by the ODNI created in 2013 that said the lawmakers or staffers’ names could be unmasked if an intelligence agency under the executive branch thought that “the identity of the Member of Congress or the Congressional staff is necessary to understand and assess the associated intelligence and further a lawful activity of the recipient agency.”
The previous standard required the CIA director to give “prior written approval” that there was a legitimate foreign intelligence need that could only be met by having the names unmasked.
Unmasking is when routine surveillance of foreign officials somehow incidentally collects the name or conversation of a U.S. citizen. According to privacy rules in the intelligence community known as “minimization procedures,” the person’s name should be redacted or removed, so the intelligence agency doesn’t have a backdoor way of spying on its own citizens.
The issue became a flashpoint earlier this spring after Trump tweeted that he thought the Obama administration had been “wiretapping” his campaign. There is still no evidence that any wire taps against Trump happened, but some surrogates and advocates of the president have suggested that expanded unmasking procedures effectively allowed higher-ranking Obama officials to keep tabs on the Trump campaign.
When a foreign surveillance intercept was leaked to the press that contained damaging information about Trump’s former national security adviser, Mike Flynn, unmasking became a small culprit in the process, as it seemed likely that Flynn’s name would have been unmasked in the document in order for the leak to be effective.
Unmasking was also at the center of a political firestorm this past March when House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said he had reviewed intelligence documents that showed unmasking of Trump campaign officials. Nunes said he was so worried about the findings that he went to the White House personally to brief members of the administration.
Democrats, however, accused Nunes of “laundering” intelligence documents that the White House wanted in the public realm to help back up the president’s wiretapping claim.
This is just one example of how the power purview of the state expanded under Barack Obama.
If it turns out Susan Rice unmasked the names of Trump’s team for political reasons, it will likely be just another scandal under the umbrella of the Obama administration underplayed by the mainstream media.