Devin Nunes, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has sent a letter to Daniel Coates, the Director of National Intelligence regarding the issue of unmasking and intelligence leaking.
We have found evidence that current and former government officials had easy access to U.S. 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.
The committee has learned that one official, whose position had no apparent intelligence related function, made hundreds of unmasking requests during the final year of the Obama administration. Of those requests, only one offered a justification that was not boilerplate and articulated why that specific official required the U.S. person information for the performance of his or her official duties.
That unnamed individual is almost certainly former UN Ambassador Samantha Power.
I eagerly await an explanation as to why an ambassador to the UN would make any – let alone hundreds of – requests for the unmasking of U.S. citizens. As noted by a former senior U.S. official who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon:
“Unmasking is not a regular occurrence – absolutely not a weekly habit. It is rare, even at the National Security Council, and ought to be rarer still for a U.N. ambassador.”
More from the letter:
The Committee also understands that Obama-era officials sought the identities of Trump transition officials within intelligence reports. However, there was no meaningful explanation offered by these officials as to why they needed or how they would use this U.S. person information, and thus, the Committee is left with the impression that these officials may have used this information for improper purposes, including the possibility of leaking.
More pointedly, some of the requests for unminimized U.S. person information were followed by anonymous leaks of those names to the media.
I fervently hope these sequences of unmasking requests followed by anonymous leaking are being aggressively pursued by the Committee – and will be the subject of prosecution.
Although the Committee has yet to complete its review, we have identified a significant issue that will require changes to federal law. Specifically, we have found that the Intelligence Community’s U.S. person unmasking policies are inadequate to prevent abuse, such as political spying.
Re-read that last sentence and let it fully sink in.
Clearly, the committee has found a smoking gun – or hundreds of them. Now, we shall see what they choose to do with the information.
Nunes then states his immediate intent:
To address this serious deficiency in the application of current policy as well as the lack of statutory requirements, I will introduce a bill to require individual, fact-based justifications for each request for U.S. person information sourced from disseminated intelligence reports. This new statutory requirement should be consistent with the current policy imposed on rank-and-file intelligence officials, which to-date has shown no sign of abuse.
The new law must, however, require conformity at the top levels of government. Cabinet members and other senior political leaders cannot be permitted to continue to seek access to U.S. person information within disseminated intelligence reports without documenting a specific, fact-based requirement for the information.
Note the italicized portions – his not mine. Nunes is drawing a clear distinction between what should be statutory but is, in fact, only policy under the Obama Administration. Policy that appears to have been violated without breaking the law.
Nunes concludes his letter by asking DNI Coates for his office’s technical assistance in drawing up the required legislation.
In early April, I wrote a piece titled The Suspicious Timing of Obama’s NSA Data-Sharing Order. At the time I noted the following:
What I found particularly curious about this significant order is that it was so overdue. It had been expected to be put into place in early 2016 as reported by the NYT and many other sources. The order was reported as being on “the verge” of being finalized in late February of 2016. Why was the order delayed – and what was changed between that draft and the finalized version that was passed in the last weeks of the Obama Administration?
Now, examine the following language contained within the order Section 2.3 of Executive Order 12333 – Procedures for the Availability or Dissemination of Raw Signals Intelligence Information by the NSA on page 9 of the viewable document and page 6 of the actual document numbering under “General Protections”:
3. (U) Political Process in the United States. [Any IC element that obtains access to raw SIGINT under these Procedures will] Not engage in any intelligence activity authorized by these Procedures, including disseminations to the White House, for the purpose of affecting the political process in the United States. The IC element will comply with the guidance applicable to NSA regarding the application of this prohibition. Questions about whether a particular activity falls within this prohibition will be resolved in consultation with the element’s legal counsel and the General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) (and the DoD’s Office of the General Counsel in the case of a DoD IC element).
Prior to the formal signing of Section 2.3 [the NSA Data-Sharing Order] it appears that there existed more latitude within the White House in regards to collection of information on the Trump Campaign. However, once signed into effect, Section 2.3 granted broad latitude in regards to inter-agency sharing of information. By the time the new order was signed, the information was already in the Obama White House’s possession.
At the time I thought the delay in implementing the new NSA Data-sharing order was of import. Now, I am convinced it is so.
The basic accusations leveled by President Trump against Obama are correct. Obama and his administration were spying on the Trump Campaign for political purposes.
I do find something uplifting in this whole morass – away from the actual discovery – the timing of Nunes’ letter.
Devin Nunes sent this letter on the same day the House Judiciary sent a letter to the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General requesting the appointment of a second Special Counsel to investigate the following:
The members call for the appointment of a second special counsel to investigate grave concerns such as former Attorney General Lynch’s directive to former FBI Director Comey to mislead the American people on the nature of the investigation into former Secretary Clinton; the FBI and Justice Department’s investigative decisions related to the Clinton email investigation, including the immunity deals given to potential co-conspirators; selected leaks of classified information that unmasked U.S. persons incidentally collected upon by the intelligence community; and the FBI’s reliance on “Fusion GPS” in its investigation of the Trump campaign, among many others issues.
For more see here.
We are seeing an emerging counterattack from the Right. It’s about time.