This week Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the State Department seeking information on former UN Ambassador Samantha Power’s potential abuse of her authority to unmask the identities of U.S. citizens whose names appear in intelligence reports.
Power was the most active of the serial unmaskers in the Obama administration. She – or someone acting in her name – made over 260 such requests in her last year as ambassador and was actively unmasking people right up to Donald Trump’s January 2017 inauguration. Note that Power testified in 2017 before the House Intelligence Committee that she did not personally make the requests, but if that is true it is still unclear who did.
The State Department has rebuffed previous attempts to reveal the full extent of the Power unmasking effort, but there is new interest since the May 13 release of a declassified memorandum from the Director of National Intelligence identifying officials who requested unmasking the identity of former National Security Adviser Michael T. Flynn in National Security Agency (NSA) foreign intelligence reports. Power submitted seven such anti-Flynn requests, which were granted.
This unmasking effort began well before – and continued well after – Flynn’s legitimate contact with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and involved 39 people, including Power, various other ambassadors, intelligence officials, and outgoing Vice President Joe Biden. The list of requests ends on January 12, 2017, which may be related to the Justice Department Inspector General announcing a review of unauthorized releases of confidential information that same day.
Judicial Watch is seeking all requests by Power or her staff to any Intelligence Community agency concerning supposed Russian subversion of the 2016 election, hacking Democratic or Clinton campaign computers, communication (real or imagined) between the Trump team and Russian operatives, including the “justification memos,” i.e., the reasons for the requests, which are still hidden. The justification memos are important since unmasking is legal and legitimate only when they are connected to official duties, and it has yet to be demonstrated that any of these activities were tied to legitimate government actions. In other words, they may well have been criminal. We also seek the names of U.S. citizens associated with the Trump presidential campaign or transition team who were identified pursuant to intelligence collection activities, to show just how far this unmasking went.
The flurry of unmaskings took place at the same time the Obama State Department was frantically funneling classified information to multiple U.S. Senator as part of the impending anti-Trump coup attempt. Last September Judicial Watch released 90 pages of heavily redacted U.S. Department of State documents showing how this effort operated. The White House had also rushed through last minute rule changes – the January 3, 2017, “Raw SIGINT Availability Procedures” – that expanded the ability of Federal agencies to gain access to and share raw, unvetted, unprocessed data from the National Security Agency.
Note that “Raw SIGINT” (Signals Intelligence) could include any intercepts of any kind. It is unevaluated information – not processed, analyzed or evaluated. This unnecessary, last-minute Obama rule change weakened privacy protections against domestic spying and vastly expanded the potential for abuse of the system. It also bolstered the deep state bureaucratic infrastructure seeking to undermine the Trump administration before it began.
The full extent of the unprecedented abuse of intelligence information in 2016-2017 has yet to be revealed. U.S. Attorney John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the FBI’s Russian collusion “witch hunt” may also reveal more detail on how unmasking was used to lay the groundwork for the coup cabal to pursue its grudge against the Trump team. Power’s unmasking activities were a part of the Obama State Department’s efforts to smear incoming President Trump with unprocessed, unanalyzed, questionable information collected by the Intelligence Community. It was an abuse of foreign intelligence powers for a domestic political purpose. There is no legitimate reason to deny this information to the public. It involved not only the invasion of Flynn’s privacy but also the dozens, perhaps hundreds or thousands of other Americans whose names were unmasked in bulk in pursuit of this illegitimate, nakedly political vendetta. The State Department’s stonewalling must end, and the full truth about the worst political scandal in the history of the Republic must be told.
Chris Farrell is director of investigations and research at Judicial Watch, a nonprofit government watchdog. He is a former military intelligence officer.