If you are confused or bewildered by the furor over the Obama administration's "unmasking" of Donald Trump, you are not stupid. Even if you worked in the intelligence community at some point in your life you might not understand it. So let me help you understand how astounding and damning the documents are that were declassified by DNI Grenell and released by Senators Johnson (no relation) and Grassley today.
Here is a section from the testimony to HPSCI (i.e., House Intel Committee) of an unnamed FBI Agent. Let's assume that this was a report that our National Security Agency put out.
Note–A NSA generated intelligence report is usually the product of collecting a phone call, an email or some other form of electronic communications. At the very top of the message and at the bottom and at the start of each paragraph there will be classification markings.
So, look at the following as a manufactured example:
TOP SECRET UMBRELLA AARDVARK ORCON
013005132020 (DATE TIME GROUP)
1. (TS/OC) In a conversation before the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, FBI Agent US CITIZEN stated:
So I reach out to him, I said, hey, let me know, you know, what you think about the information. He emails back, and that was maybe the 23rd, 24th of September, and states that the information that – in the dossier corroborated information that they received FROM A FOREIGN DIPLOMAT that actually predicated all this investigation.
So, you are Joe Biden. You have just read this message provided to you as part of your intel briefing. You want to know the name of the FBI Agent and the name of the FOREIGN DIPLOMAT. To get this info Biden, or one of this staffers, fills out an electronic request to the originating agency, i.e. the organization that put out the Intel Report. In this case, it is NSA. In filling out that report you have to give a valid reason based on a national security priority in order to explain why you want that information. Biden does not just get to say, "CUZ I WANTS TO KNOW."
That message goes to the NSA official in charge of "unmasking" who decides to approve the request. He or she sends back the UNMASKED message to Biden. Here is what he read (it is still classified TOP SECRET RIDICULOUS):
1. (TS/OC) In a conversation before the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, FBI Agent JOHN MARCINKOWSKI stated:
So I reach out to him, I said, hey, let me know, you know, what you think about the information. He emails back, and that was maybe the 23rd, 24th of September, and states that the information that – in the dossier corroborated information that they received FROM A AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR ALEXANDER DOWNER that actually predicated all this investigation.
This is what Joe Biden and 38 other members of the Obama Administration, including CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director Jim Comey, did to General Michael Flynn.
It is important to understand the following to appreciate how unusual this activity was.
First, the date of the request to unmask coincides with a unique report. For example, Samantha Powers, the Obama UN Ambassador, asked for information on the following dates:
30 November 2016
2 December 2016
7 December 2016
14 December 2016 (TWO REQUESTS)
23 December 2016
11 January 2017
These are SEVEN different NSA reports. She is not requesting the same report SEVEN times. She is requesting unmasking on SEVEN different reports.
Second, as you scan the list of the unmasking requests you will notice that at least nine different people requested an unmasking on the 14th of December 2016. This is most likely the same report but nine different people throughout the Obama administration are asking for this information.
Finally, and to me the most important document, is the document that is not there. We know that Michael Flynn's conversation with the Russian Ambassador was intercepted on the 29th of December. THERE ARE NO UNMASKING REQUESTS ON THE 29TH, 30TH, 31ST OF DECEMBER NOR ON 1ST OR 2ND OF JANUARY.
But, we know that the UNMASKING of that conversation took place between December 29 and 2 January because Andrew McCabe told Mary McCord at DOJ about the transcript on 3 January.
Why were the details of that unmasking withheld. Two possible explanations: 1)–The CIA intercepted the conversation and/or 2) that document is part of a grand jury process and being used for the possible prosecution of the person or persons involved in leaking the transcript.
This is shocking stuff. More to come. Hope this explanation makes the process a bit more transparent for you.
I know nothing of this subject, which will soon become very apparent, and I would like to understand it better. Who can make a request to NSA for such information, do they need a certain clearance level? Is a warrant required? How readily does NSA provide such information?
As someone who does not work within this sector it is unclear to me how often something like this occurs and how irregular this set of circumstances is. I appreciate all the work you’ve done on the Flynn saga.
Thank you very much; this is a great aid to understanding.
Keith Harbaugh says
Thanks for the explanation.
Also, Sundance says unmasking applies to reports from the FBI as well as those from NSA (and presumably CIA):
The suggestion is that the FBI was specifically monitoring Flynn. There was nothing “incidental” about that intercept.
JP Billen says
According to the DNI, NSA received these amounts of SIGINT “unmasking” requests per year:
These are totals for all not just Flynn.
blue peacock says
Andrea Mitchell (aka Mrs. Greenspan) has been furiously tweeting that over 9,000 unmaskings take place every year and that this was all routine. Nothing to see here.
That’s the defense!
Considering that the Kislyak call was leaked to David Ignatius whose story put the spotlight on Pence and Trump who promptly threw Flynn under the bus, it would be useful to read the transcript of the call.
I thought Amb to UN would report to Sec of State but from looking at wikipedia it seems that it would be the President instead. It’s been a on again/off again Cabinet level position. It’s current status is unclear as the last wiki entry indicated the Trump admin was planning to downgrade the position but nothing after that. So, if Samantha Powers requested unmasking could that perhaps be at the request of Obama? Could H Clinton come out of this clean?
Larry, thanks again, much appreciate your efforts.
scott s. says
I’m curious that I assume all the individuals by virtue of their
positions need at least TS level of clearance. But I wonder about “need to know”?
Jim Clapper sez unmasking routine. This serial perjurer should be made an example of.
JP Billen says
Why were so many Treasury officials involved in the unmasking?
Grennell’s list as posted by Colonel Lang shows that Jacob Lew the Secretary, plus five others from Treasury (Arthur McGlynn, Mike Neufeld, Sarah Raskin, Nathan Sheets, and Adam Szubin) requested the unmasking.
Were they even authorized to request unmasking?
Barbara Ann says
Great explanation, thanks Larry. The date range of Grenell’s request covering the period to the end of January looks an awful lot like he is sending a clear message; that he wants the perp(s) to see the missing requests between December 29th and January 2nd and come to the same conclusion you have re possibility # 2.
I wonder whether the wording of Nakasone’s memo (included in Robt. Willmann’s last post) is also significant. He describes the follow-up list from Grenell as including the dates, not just the names, as originally requested. This seems redundant, given that Grenell presumably specified the format he wanted – unless again it is to send a similar message.
The anguish aboard the Raft of the Medusa is palpable, who will be the first to turn on his erstwhile shipmates?
Even if routine, there needs to be a stated reason to request the unmasking. Collectively it would be interesting to see those express and documented predicated “reasons”. That way, we could see what the government considers “routine”.
The Twisted Genius says
We don’t know the subjects of these NSA intercepts that prompted this wide range of officials to seek unmasking of the unidentified “US Person” or “USP#1” in the reports. However, the reports were of such import that these officials made proper requests for unmasking with legitimate justifications according to Nakasone’s list. It’s important to reiterate that the requesters didn’t seek to unmask Flynn. They sought to identify the unidentified US person who appeared in those NSA reports. The same reports that caused those requesters such legitimate concern.
Terence Gore says
Mike Rogers explaining unmasking protocols
James W. Lung says
Might it be that the multiple unmasking attempts were simply done to make it impossible to identify the leaker?
Keith Harbaugh says
Andrew McCarthy gives a detailed look at the unmasking issue in general and, in particular, how it might apply to Flynn:
I hypothesize, then, that Flynn was not unmasked in connection with the December 29 Kislyak call. Either the CIA monitored the call directly or a friendly foreign intelligence service — whether subtly tasked by U.S. intelligence or knowing that U.S. intelligence would be very interested — intercepted the call and passed it along, probably to the CIA.
This sounds strikingly like what Larry said back in 2017, for which he was roasted in the media as a “conspiracy theorist”.
Speculated elsewhere – was Samatha Powers “hundreds of unmasking requests” used to feed her author and Bloomberg reporter husband Cass Sunstein, who in turn who wrote some very interesting books:
…”On July 4, 2008, Sunstein married Samantha Power, professor of public policy at Harvard, and (now) former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, whom he met when they both worked as campaign advisors to Barack Obama.
Sunstein also developed, according to WIKI, the “nudge theory” about getting things done – who “nudged” Obama to greenlight Russiagate?
(Book) Sunstein, Cass R. (2009). On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done. Princeton University Press.
September 10, 2009 – August 21, 2012: United States Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. (Applied his Nudge Theory to the selling of ACA.)
(Book) Sunstein, Cass R. (2017). Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide. Harvard University Press.
Keith Harbaugh says
Update: Sundance has written a post on the McCarthy article mentioned above, with some additional information: