Former Obama national security advisor Ben Rhodes has been named as a person of interest in the House intelligence committee’s unmasking probe, according to a letter sent Tuesday to the National Security Agency.
Rhodes joins the ranks of top Obama political advisors implicated in making hundreds of requests to the NSA, asking that they reveal the identity of Americans whose communications had been intercepted. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes of California sent a letter to the NSA asking them to provide a list of all the unmasking requests Rhodes made from Jan. 1, 2016 to Jan. 20, 2017, according to Circa.
Former Obama national security advisor Susan Rice, former CIA Director John Brennan and Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power have also been named as persons of interest in the investigation. Their names came up while the committee was reviewing classified documents as part of their probe into the surveillance of then-candidate Donald Trump and his associates. All the aforementioned officials were legally empowered to make unmasking requests but the committee was given pause by the volume of requests.
Nunes told NSA Director Dan Coats that Obama administration officials made hundreds of unmasking requests without providing specific justifications, in a July 27 letter obtained by the Hill.
“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,” Nunes wrote in the letter to Coats.
A number of law enforcement and intelligence sources said that the type of request made by Obama administration are typically reserved for situations in which the information is necessary to counter a specific threat.
“It’s like hell and high water to fill out and gain approval for these types of unmaskings,” an intelligence source with direct knowledge of the unmasking requests told Circa. “It’s something analysts take seriously and could entail filling out 80 pages of paperwork to prove there is a need to unmask. If top officials were unmasking without oversight it’s something everyone should be concerned about and it puts our intelligence community in a very bad place.”
Rice and Brennan have conceded that they did make unmasking requests but they argue the requests were standard and were not politically motivated.
There was an increase in the number of unmasking requests in July of 2016, which coincided with Trump’s emergence as the GOP presidential candidate. The number of requests jumped again after Trump was elected in November and the volume continued throughout the transition, according to Circa.
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