California Rep. Devin Nunes (R) has accused the Obama Administration of making hundreds of unmasking requests during last year’s presidential election.
In a letter to DNI Dan Coats, Nunes insists that these unmasking requests were made without justification on why such information was needed. Nunes calls this lack of justification a “serious deficiency.”
“We have found evidence that current and former government officials had easy access to US person information and that it is possible that they used this information to achieve partisan political purposes, including the selective, anonymous leaking of such information,” writes Nunes.
“This committee has learned that one official, whose position has no apparent intelligence-related function, made hundreds of unmasking requests during the final year of the Obama Administration,” continues the letter. That official is believed to be former UN ambassador Samantha Power.
Political aides would be unable to make such requests were it not for a policy change made by Obama in 2011. The change, which has been criticized by Republicans and Democrats, was supposedly designed to make it easier for people to better understand raw intelligence gathered overseas. It also made it easier for the Obama Administration to spy on Trump.
The surveillance investigation began in March when Trump first claimed that Obama had wiretapped Trump tower during last year’s presidential election.
It was later discovered that the FBI sought out and obtained a FISA court warrant allowing them to monitor certain “US persons” involved in Trump’s presidential campaign. The warrant was granted in October over suspicions that Trump was working with Russia.
The FBI supposedly monitored certain individuals and a computer server to search for links between the Trump campaign and two Russian banks. Agents detected no criminal behavior but pursued the investigation anyway.
About a month later, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes gained access to classified documents suggesting personal information about members of the Trump team had been widely disseminated throughout the intelligence community – despite the fact that this information had no apparent foreign intelligence value.
Obama officials claim this information was gathered “incidentally” as part of a larger investigation, but that doesn’t explain why individuals’ names weren’t masked and why the information was leaked.
Former DNI James Clapper and CIA Director Michael Morell have both confirmed that the classified documents do not contain evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia.
In early April, Nunes announced he would be stepping out of the Russia investigation. Nunes says pressure from “left wing activist groups” convinced him to step aside.
The next step for the committee, sans Nunes, was to find out who gave the order to “unmask” the names in the classified documents. That person is believed to be Obama-era National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
Both Susan Rice and CIA Director John Brennan have admitted to making unmasking requests. They both insist the requests were made for legitimate reasons.
Government officials have the authority to ask that names be unmasked if those names are believed to have foreign intelligence value. Obama officials are arguing that the information was collected for national security reasons, so it will be difficult to prove that Rice did anything illegal.
Meanwhile, Democrats have accused Nunes of focusing on the “unmasking issue” in an effort to distract from the Russia investigation. “The unmasking thing was all created by Devin Nunes,” claimed Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) this month.
Nonetheless, Nunes continues to pursue the unmasking issue and plans to introduce legislation to address concerns about how the unmasking process affects Americans’ privacy.
His efforts are supported by the recent release of a set of memos suggesting that the Obama-era NSA and FBI violated specific civil liberty protections by improperly searching and sharing raw intelligence on American citizens. The documents identify more than 90 incidents where violations could have impacted American citizens.
The NSA has also admitted that it has been slow to notify fellow agencies in instances when it has wrongly shared information about American citizens. Such notifications are supposed to be made within 5 days. The NSA’s average is 19.
Editor’s note: Burr is dead wrong, Obama’s wiretapping is one of the worst breaches of Constitutional freedoms in history, actually using U.S. Government intelligence resources to spy on his political rivals. This is the kind of behavior you would expect from a third world dictator, not the America we know and love.
In my intelligence days, if our activities came anywhere close to a ‘U.S. person’ (citizens, green card holders, etc.) we immediately pulled back, and waited for guidance. That activity would not continue without consent and involvement by the FBI. It seems that no one in the Obama Administration respected civil rights and felt free to conduct surveillance on Americans, without a court order or due process. Its illegal, immoral and un-American.