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The list released Wednesday by acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell of top Obama officials who asked to “unmask” former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s name from NSA reporting is the latest bombshell in the story of how the Obama administration weaponized intelligence to undermine and destroy the incoming Trump administration.
But it also suggests this conspiracy began earlier and was much broader than previously believed.
By releasing this list, Grenell did a great service to his country to protect the principle of the peaceful transfer of power. But the intelligence community needs to release much more information to get to the bottom of this conspiracy. This should include information on the content of the NSA reports and which officials made unmasking requests of them.
Intelligence officials also need to provide a broader list of all unmasking requests made by senior Obama officials during this time period because it is likely that other Trump campaign and transition officials also were targeted.
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Names of U.S. citizens mentioned in U.S. intelligence reports, often NSA communications intercepts, are blacked out (minimized) because, under U.S. law, America’s foreign intelligence services are normally not permitted to spy on U.S. citizens. Although senior U.S. officials are permitted to ask for the identity of a blacked-out name in an intelligence report (an unmasking request), such requests are unusual and the requestor must have a “need to know” the identity of the U.S. person to understand the foreign intelligence information or assess its importance.
When the request is approved, the unmasked identity is released only to the person who requested it, not to everyone who might have seen the original version of the report.
For example, during my time at the State Department from 2001-2006, Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage made about 100 demasking requests. Then-Under Secretary of State John Bolton only made 10.
The list released today is of 39 top Obama officials who made 53 requests to unmask Lt. Gen. Flynn’s name from intelligence reports between election day (Nov. 8, 2016) and Jan. 31, 2017. While many of the requesters were Obama political appointees who resigned by Jan. 20, 2017, some were career officers at CIA, the Pentagon and other agencies.
The most stunning thing about this list is that the vast majority of these requests were dated between Dec. 14 and 16, which was before Flynn’s Dec. 29 phone call to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. An NSA intercept of this phone call was the basis of the Jan. 24, 2017, FBI interview with Flynn when two FBI agents used this intercept to entrap Flynn into lying about the call.
FBI Director James Comey broke protocol by not informing White House lawyers that he planned to send FBI agents to meet with Flynn. The FBI agents discouraged Flynn from having a lawyer present and didn’t read him anything like the Miranda warning.
Flynn was targeted for unmasking at least two weeks before the Dec. 29 phone call. ... This may indicate Flynn and other Trump transition officials were being targeted for unmasking as part of a fishing expedition to find dirt on them to undermine Trump’s presidency.
Flynn did not make any phone calls during this period to Kisylak until Dec. 22, 2016. He did meet with Kislyak on Dec. 1 at Trump Tower in New York. This may mean the unmasked mid-December intelligence that mentioned Flynn could have been a phone conversation by Kislyak with someone else. It also could have involved some matter involving Flynn, possibly with another country.
This means Flynn was targeted for unmasking at least two weeks before the Dec. 29 phone call and the vast majority of these unmasking requests did not include intercepted conversations of Flynn having allegedly inappropriate conversations with Kislyak. This may indicate Flynn and other Trump transition officials were being targeted for unmasking as part of a fishing expedition to find dirt on them to undermine Trump’s presidency.
In addition, there were only seven unmasking requests by seven officials after the Dec. 29 Flynn-Kislyak phone call – by Vice President Biden, then Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Obama Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and other career officials. Since the information in this intercept leaked to the press, these seven officials are suspects for this criminal act.
Other significant observations: U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power made the most unmasking requests for Flynn’s name – seven. Clapper made three. No one else made more than two. Power, who reportedly made an astounding 260 demasking requests during her time as U.N. ambassador, testified in 2017 that most of these requests were made in her name but she did not request this information. I believe Power and assume someone at the NSC, who was not authorized access to demasking information, made these requests in her name. The intelligence community needs to disclose who this person was.
Also interesting is the cluster of requests to demask Flynn’s name by Biden and others between Jan. 7 and Jan. 12, 2017, and the timing of these requests.
On Jan. 5, Biden, Comey, Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates met with Obama. In the meeting, Obama appeared to direct these officials to withhold Russia-related intelligence from the incoming Trump administration.
The next day, President-elect Trump received a misleading and incomplete briefing on the fraudulent Steele Dossier and Russian meddling in the 2016 election by Clapper, Comey, Brennan, and NSA Director Mike Rogers.
Over the next few days, there were seven high-level requests for Flynn’s name to be unmasked from NSA reporting. My guess is that this was not a coincidence and that a single intelligence official or NSC staff member suggested that these senior officials ask to see this information as part of a larger effort to target Flynn. The intelligence report in question probably concerned Flynn’s Dec. 29 phone call with Kislyak and would be used to entrap Flynn by the FBI on Jan. 24.
The lists of requesters to unmask Flynn’s name from intelligence reports after the 2016 election is not a smoking gun, but it does strongly suggest some coordinated effort by senior Obama officials to get target Flynn and undermine the incoming Trump administration.