The House Intelligence Committee is widening the scope of its investigation into the Obama administration’s abuse of a controversial practice: The unmasking of Americans unintentionally caught on legal foreign surveillance wiretaps.
According to documents obtained by the news organization Circa, Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes sent a letter to the National Security Agency asking for the number of unmaskings requested by former Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes between January 1, 2016 and January 20, 2017.
The letter indicates that Rhodes will now join former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, former U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, and former CIA Director John Brennan in the hot seat before Congress.
A letter sent last week from Nunes to Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, suggested that top Obama aides made hundreds of unmasking requests during the 2016 presidential elections. The story, which was first reported by The Hill last week, stated that the requests were made without specific justifications as to why the unmasking was necessary. Rice and Brennan have confirmed they sought the unredacted names of Americans in NSA-sourced intelligence reports but insisted their requests were routine parts of their work and had no nefarious intentions. Power also has legal authority to unmask officials, though the practice has not reportedly been common for someone in her position. Rhodes also had legal authority to unmask Americans in NSA-source intelligence reports. But intelligence and congressional sources question the extent of the unmasking.
Nunes told Coats in a letter last week that the committee has “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.”
Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the ACLU, we recently learned that Obama’s national security agencies violated American civil rights on nearly 100 occasions with a casual disregard for the law. Put those damning revelations next to this unfolding story, and the implications are very clear. This was an administration willing to circumvent the law if it meant achieving its political objectives, and that willingness may very well have extended to interfering in the 2016 presidential election.
Unmasking requests are meant to be deliberate, painstaking processes that are only granted when there is a compelling national security reason. From all available information, Rhodes, Rice, Power, and Brennan were unilaterally demanding these unmaskings be done without the proper oversight procedures, and they were doing it to expose members of the Trump campaign to political damage.
Oh, there was meddling in the 2016 election, all right.