When Devin Nunes met with a couple of White House staffers to view intelligence a couple of weeks ago, it was discovered that the names of some members of Trump’s team were unmasked in the reports. After some investigation, it was determined that a staffer in the Obama administration, Susan Rice, was responsible for the unmasking. There is debate over whether or not this unmasking constitutes an illegal action.
Unmasking is a term used in the intelligence community that refers to the revelation of the identity of an American citizen that is referenced in reports. By law, any US citizen referenced in intelligence is required to be obfuscated with a label such as “US citizen #1.” Being mentioned in an intelligence report is not a sign that a person was under surveillance. In some cases, it may be necessary to reveal these names for context and to understand the value of the intelligence.
There is only a few high level officials who are authorized to grant permission for citizens to be unmasked. Rice only had authorization to request names to be unmasked. These requests are routine and legal and unmasking a name is not the same as leaking it.
Most current and former intelligence officials have said that they have not seen anything to indicate that her actions were unusual or illegal. There are a few former officials who claim that Rice’s role should not require her to know the names of American citizens in the reports.
Supporters of Donald Trump have claimed that Rice’s actions are proof of his claim that Obama had illegally wiretapped Trump Tower. President Trump has stated that he believes that Rice had committed a crime (no evidence was provided). Senator Rand Paul has even said that it is a “smoking gun.” There has been a proposal to have Rice testify.
Rice was involved in examining intelligence related to individuals affiliated with Trump. As a result, her actions are being scrutinized. Rice denies the claims that she has committed any wrongdoing and that she did not leak any of the names. She does acknowledge that she unmasked them but said it was not politically motivated. She said that she would regularly receive reports with the names of US citizens redacted and in order for her to understand the value of the report, she requested for the name to be unmasked.
While Rice has not stated why she unmasked the names in the reports that Nunes viewed, it is believed that it was done when she was looking for evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Ultimately, she did not find any evidence of collusion.
Update 4/13/2017: The House and Senate Intelligence committees have decided to expand the investigation of the unmasking controversy. Specifically, they are looking to see if there is any evidence of any other Presidential candidate or members of Congress who were unmasked in incidental intelligence gathering.
References and Further Reading
- Devin Nunes: House Intelligence Committee Trump/Russia investigation controversy [article]
- Donald Trump: Obama wiretapped Trump Tower [article]
- What you need to know about Susan Rice and the unmasking controversy
- Sorry, But Susan Rice Is Not Your ‘Smoking Gun’
- Trump, Citing No Evidence, Suggests Susan Rice Committed Crime
- Tom Cotton: It’s ‘unusual’ for White House officials like Susan Rice to make unmasking requests
- Susan Rice’s alleged unmasking requests not so routine, ex-officials say
- Congress expands ‘unmasking’ probe amid questions over Rice role