When U.S. intelligence agencies gather information on foreigners, often the name of a U.S. citizen or entity will be collected. Under current U.S. law, information about innocent citizens gathered in this way is referred to as incidental collection. Their names and data must be masked to protect their privacy.
Authorized government officials, under certain conditions, may “unmask” the identity of an individual.
When John Bolton served at the United Nations, he “unmasked” the identities of three individuals. In the year leading up to the 2016 presidential election, then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Powers unmasked over 260 Americans.
On September 20, 2017, Fox News reported that the remarkable number of Americans who had been unmasked at Powers’ request “was an attempt to uncover associates of President Trump. She was ‘unmasking’ at such a rapid pace in the final months of the Obama administration that she averaged more than one request for every working day in 2016, even seeking information in the days leading up to President Trump’s inauguration.”
In October 2017, Powers testified before a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee. Then Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) spoke to Fox News’ Brett Baier afterward and said:
Her testimony is they [the unmasking requests] may be under my name, but I did not make those requests.
I think if she were on your show, she would say those requests to unmask may have been attributed to her, but they greatly exceed by an exponential factor the requests she actually made…So, that’s her testimony, and she was pretty emphatic about it.
So, we’ve got to get to the bottom of that. If there is someone else making requests on behalf of a principal in the intelligence community, we need to know that because we’re getting ready to reauthorize a program that’s really important to the country, but also has a masking component to it.
Judicial Watch founder Tom Fitton filed an initial FOIA request for all State Department documents relating to Powers’ unmaskings in October 2017, and has been unable to obtain them. He said:
Unmasking and then illegally leaking the names of Trump team members caught up in foreign intelligence gathering would have been an incredible, but unsurprising abuse by the Obama administration. Was the Clinton-DNC dossier also used as justification to abuse intelligence data to ‘unmask’ American citizens to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Donald Trump? And why is the Tillerson State Department stonewalling Judicial Watch’s FOIA investigation into this potentially illegal conduct by its agency employees?
In late 2017, President Trump ordered the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Security Agency to grant access to members of the House Intelligence Committee. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) had been the chair of that committee until Democrats took over the majority in January.
In February, Nunes told investigative reporter Sarah Carter, “The NSA and ODNI were to put in safe guards – a repository so we could go and review (the documents) – they have yet to do it, The president ordered them to do it more than a year ago. We have yet to see that implemented.”
The unmasking records will be released soon and many pundits are expecting them to be related to Israel.
OANN’s Jack Posobiec sent the following tweets on Friday.
BREAKING: Samantha Power targeted any call made about Israeli settlements for unmasking. When she found Gen Flynn making calls she opposed, she passed information to Sally Yates who opened Logan Act investigation. DNI Coats has now reviewed all unmasking.
BREAKING: White House plans to declassify documents showing that Samantha Power was on a “one-woman crusade” for the Palestinians and against Israel in 2016. Repeated unmakings were used to ensure her effort did not fail.
The Conservative Review’s Jordan Schachtel tweeted that the “Obama WH was so incredibly hostile to Israel that they used extraconstitutional surveillance powers to spy on pro-Israel advocates to make sure they could thwart efforts to defend Israel. Gross abuses of power & they got off scot-free, for now at least.”
(Note: The Obama administration, you may recall, was caught spying on the Israeli government in December 2015.)
During the transition period, Trump and Obama officials clashed over Israel, particularly about an upcoming vote over condemning Israeli settlements. Trump officials had made calls to world leaders seeking their support. Information about the calls was leaked to the media.