Reports in unmasking controversy had info about ‘everyday lives’
Catherine Herridge, Pamela Browne, Fox News, Apr 5 2017
The intelligence reports at the center of the Susan Rice unmasking controversy were detailed, and almost resembled a private investigator’s file, according to a Rethug congressman familiar with the documents. Rep Peter King of New York, a member of the House Intelligence committee, said:
This is information about their everyday lives, sort of like in a divorce case where lawyers are hired, investigators are hired, just to find out what the other person is doing from morning until night, and then you try to piece it together later on.
On the House Intelligence Committee, only Nunes and Schiff have personally reviewed the intelligence reports. Some members were given broad outlines. Nunes has consistently stated that the files caused him deep concern because the unmasking went beyond the former national security adviser Mike Flynn, and the information was not related to Moscow. Schiff said in a statement:
I cannot comment on the content of these materials or any other classified documents, and nothing should be inferred from the fact that I am treating classified materials the way they should be treated, by refusing to comment on them. Only the administration has the power to declassify the information and make it available to the public.
Rice is under scrutiny after allegations she sought to unmask the identities of Trump associates caught up in surveillance, such as phone calls between foreign intelligence targets. Rice denies ever having sought such information for political purposes and has defended her requests as routine. But the most recent government data shows that unmasking or identifying Pindosis happens in a limited number of cases. The ODNI said:
In 2015, NSA disseminated 4,290 FAA Section 702 intelligence reports that included Pindosi person information. Of those 4,290 reports, the Pindosi person information was masked in 3,168 reports and unmasked in 1,122 reports, (revealing) 654 Pindo person identities. NSA is allowed to unmask the identity for the specific requesting recipient only under certain conditions and where specific additional controls are in place.
That means Pindosis were identified in 26% of the cases, or roughly one in four intelligence reports. During his Mar 20 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Rogers said:
Only 20 individuals within the agency are authorized to approve those requests. They receive specific training. There are specific controls put in place in terms of our ability to disseminate information out of the databases associated with Pindosi persons.
What it appears to suggest is that the NSA itself
agreed that the instances in which Rice requested unmasking warranted that action (can refuse to unmask but did not – RB). FBI Director James Comey was less direct. He testified (regarding the number authorized to unmask – RB):
I don’t know for sure. As I sit here, surely more, given the nature of the FBI’s work.
Trey Gowdy pressed:
It would be nice to know the universe of people who have the power to unmask a Pindosi citizen’s name. Because that might provide something of a roadmap to investigate who might’ve actually disseminated a masked Pindosi citizen’s name.
Rice told NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell that the reports were requested by the Obama administration, which announced a probe into the Russian election hacking in early December. Two months earlier in October, before the election, the ODNI & DHS put out a joint statement about Moscow’s interference. Rice told Mitchell:
Fulfilling the president’s request for such a report, they went back and
scrubbed(unmasked – RB) more reports. They began to provide more such reports to Pindosi officials, including myself.
Given the late fall timeline, it is not clear the intelligence reports Rice discussed during the NBC interview, are the same files reviewed by Nunes and Schiff. Speaking to Fox News Wednesday, Pres Trump said he believed Rice may have committed a crime when she sought the identities of the Trump team members. The allegation was first reported by the NYT. While not commenting on the individual case, a former senior intelligence official explained the request must be approved by the NSA. Rice would have understood that there is an extensive government paper trail that can be audited within the NSA, that shows who requested the unmasking,
on what basis (the reason why is the client’s business – RB) and whether it was granted. This raises more questions about Rice, her motivation and whether it her action was authorized higher up, offering cover. If approved, the former senior intelligence official said, only the requester, in this case Rice, would receive the information. Based on Fox News’ reporting, the information was shared beyond Rice, but and it is not clear if those who received it had a “need to know.” A spox for Rice, Erin Pelton, said in an email to the NYT on Wednesday:
I’m not going to dignify the president’s ludicrous charge with a comment.
Pelton works for Mercury LLC, a crisis management firm. At the height of the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack fallout, and questions about whether Rice and a former senior intelligence official had misled Congress about the role of an internet video in the deaths of four Pindosis, Mercury LLC was also tasked with handling the Fox News media inquiries.