Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday that Americans “have a right to know” details about allegations that President Obama's National Security Adviser Susan Rice asked for the identity of Trump transition team members to be unmasked in intelligence reports.This is absolutely true.
“Well I think the American people have a right to know what was going on. And we have every confidence that intelligence committees in the House and the Senate will get to the bottom of all of these allegations,” Pence told Fox News.
We DO have a right to know what's going on.
But before we get to the details, we have to look at what Susan Rice actually did.
Unmasking is a term used by the intelligence community to describe the process of unveiling the identity of a U.S. person who appears in a classified foreign intelligence report. The law requires that identities of U.S. persons picked up or mentioned during the course of foreign surveillance be masked; that is, that they be shielded from people reading the reports.Former NSA-guy John Schindler explains more:
However, there are 20 high-ranking officials within the U.S. government who have to power to approve requests to reveal those identities if they deem that information is necessary to understanding the value of the intelligence. That process is called "unmasking," and Rice had the authority to do so while serving as national security adviser.
When a name is unmasked it is only provided to the official who requested it, and therefore unmasking is not equivalent to leaking the name.
Every day, the National Security Agency intercepts lots of calls between foreigners in which Americans are discussed. If they’re important Americans—top politicians, for instance—that intercept may have intelligence value. If it doesn’t, the intercept is deleted and forgotten.And:
More rarely, the NSA intercepts phone calls in which one of the interlocutors is an American. As long as this operation has been approved per the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—meaning a top-secret Federal court has issued a warrant for this collection—this is perfectly legal SIGINT. Here, too, an intelligence report will be issued in top-secret channels if the NSA determines there’s foreign intelligence value here and somebody, usually the FBI, needs to know what the intercept reveals.
When the NSA receives a request to “unmask” that American’s identity, to use the proper spy-term, the Agency office which issued the report is asked if they’re ok with the unmasking. The request then goes up a chain, potentially as high as the NSA director, for final approval.So let's see what we have, the NSA (with FISA court approval) was surveilling a person or persons deemed to have foreign intelligence value (i.e. a "spy" or "spies") and discovered they were talking to some American citizens who just happened to be working on the Trump Campaign. A report was filed that made its way to Susan Rice - with the identities of those Americans "masked" so she couldn't see them. She had the authority to request those identities and she did so. The NSA apparently approved and she found out the names.
The NSA could have said no.
As Schindler later tweeted:
So damn straight, the American People have a right to know:If Rice got USP unmasked, it was because #NSA assessed it was a legitimate #natsec request & she had a need to knowhttps://t.co/lYQoI2dw06— John Schindler (@20committee) April 3, 2017
- Who in the Trump Campaign was talking to people under NSA (and FISA-approved) surveillance?
- How many times did they talk?
- What did they talk about?
- Who in the Trump Campaign knew about these communications and for how long?