Former President Barack Obama’s national security advisor, Susan Rice, has reportedly made dozens of requests that “unmasked” individuals on the then-President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team. She was the national security adviser from 2013 to 2017.
12 days ago, Susan Rice was on PBS, where she was asked about the “unmasking” that she is now implicated in. The Bloomberg report identifies Susan Rice as the requestor of the unmasking. No reason is known why she would be requesting that information at this time, and House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes believes that the information was obtained legally. Nunes however is leading the investigation to see why the “unmasking” occurred, if it was party politics to get the upper hand, or if there was a valid reason.
While she was national security adviser, the Obama administration approved new rules towards the end of the then President’s term. The rules gave the NSA more free-reign with sharing intercepted personal communications.
Incidentally collected conversations are a part of the intelligence world. Conversations are picked up, recorded, but protections are supposed to be in place to prevent abuse. American names are supposed to be redacted, to protect the identity of the individuals. This redaction, called “masking,” is supposed to be applied to Americans when they are incidentally collected.
The current standard for unmasking to occur when the names of U.S. persons are incidentally collected is that foreign intelligence value must exist. That is a very broad definition, one that can be applied to virtually any scenario. No need for judges, wiretaps, or oversight is currently required for these requests.
The actions from Nunes in March are explained by the revelation that Susan Rice was involved. His trips to the White House could very well be explained by his need to view the National Security Council’s computer systems that would have the logs of individuals that made requests to reveal the identity of U.S. persons.
Nunes was not the only one to investigate the “unmasking” policies. National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, was instructed to stop his investigations by the White House General Counsel’s office. Cohen-Watnick made his discoveries of Susan Rice’s requests for unmasking in February, and took it to the House General Counsel’s office where they reviewed more requests.
Susan Rice has not directly addressed the scandal, except for her denial of being aware, which she made clear during her time on “PBS NewsHour.” For clarification, the “unmasking” has nothing to do with President’s Trump’s tweet accusing Obama of illegally wiretapping Trump Tower. As of right now, there is no confirmation or denial of President Trump’s conversations being an individual that was incidentally collected or “unmasked.”