By Fred Fleitz
The list released Wednesday by acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell of top Obama officials who asked to “unmask” former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s name from NSA reporting is the latest bombshell in the story of how the Obama administration weaponized intelligence to undermine and destroy the incoming Trump administration.
But it also suggests this conspiracy began earlier and was much broader than previously believed.
By releasing this list, Grenell did a great service to his country to protect the principle of the peaceful transfer of power. But the intelligence community needs to release much more information to get to the bottom of this conspiracy. This should include information on the content of the NSA reports and which officials made unmasking requests of them.
Intelligence officials also need to provide a broader list of all unmasking requests made by senior Obama officials during this time period because it is likely that other Trump campaign and transition officials also were targeted.
Names of U.S. citizens mentioned in U.S. intelligence reports, often NSA communications intercepts, are blacked out (minimized) because, under U.S. law, America’s foreign intelligence services are normally not permitted to spy on U.S. citizens. Although senior U.S. officials are permitted to ask for the identity of a blacked-out name in an intelligence report (an unmasking request), such requests are unusual and the requestor must have a “need to know” the identity of the U.S. person to understand the foreign intelligence information or assess its importance.
When the request is approved, the unmasked identity is released only to the person who requested it, not to everyone who might have seen the original version of the report.
For example, during my time at the State Department from 2001-2006, Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage made about 100 demasking requests. Then-Under Secretary of State John Bolton only made 10.
The list released today is of 39 top Obama officials who made 53 requests to unmask Lt. Gen. Flynn’s name from intelligence reports between election day (Nov. 8, 2016) and Jan. 31, 2017. While many of the requesters were Obama political appointees who resigned by Jan. 20, 2017, some were career officers at CIA, the Pentagon and other agencies.
The most stunning thing about this list is that the vast majority of these requests were dated between Dec. 14 and 16, which was before Flynn’s Dec. 29 phone call to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. An NSA intercept of this phone call was the basis of the Jan. 24, 2017, FBI interview with Flynn when two FBI agents used this intercept to entrap Flynn into lying about the call.
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