Susan Rice's alleged unmasking requests not so routine, ex-officials say

While Susan Rice is defending as routine her requests for the identities of Americans caught up in surveillance of foreign targets, others who’ve served in the intelligence community and at high levels of government say the former national security adviser's requests were quite unusual.

Rice, who served in the Obama administration, is at the heart of allegations of improper surveillance of the Trump team prior to Inauguration Day.

Fox News reported Monday that Rice asked for Trump associates to be identified – or “unmasked” – in intelligence reports and those names were then widely disseminated at the top levels of the government. In an interview Tuesday on MSNBC, Rice largely skirted talking specifically about those allegations, however, she said it was “absolutely false” that Obama officials utilized intelligence “for political purposes.”

Rice’s defenders also have said unmasking requests would be a typical part of her job -- and her authority to make such requests generally is not being questioned. Rice said Tuesday the process helped provide context “in order to understand the importance of the report and understand the significance.”

“It is hard to fathom how the demasking of multiple Trump campaign and transition officials was not politically motivated.”

— Fred Fleitz, ex-CIA analyst

Former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau tweeted his coarsely-worded case: "It was her f------ job to know this information! This is utter bulls---."

Her detractors, however, say that’s not the case.

“From my direct experience dealing at this level, that is never done,” retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer told Fox News. Shaffer has experience in intelligence operations focused on foreign actors in which U.S. citizens’ involvement could surface.

“The national security adviser person is a manager position, not an analyst position,” he said. “You have analysts in the intelligence community whose job is to sort through who is doing what with what. Susan Rice is a senior manager looking over the entire intelligence community. She should not have time to be unmasking individuals having conversations. It’s insane. It’s never done.”

Ex-CIA analyst Fred Fleitz agreed in a Fox News op-ed.

“Rice’s denials don’t add up,” Fleitz wrote. “It is hard to fathom how the demasking of multiple Trump campaign and transition officials was not politically motivated.”

Trump hasn't commented extensively since Rice's Tuesday interview, however, asked by The New York Times if he thought Rice committed a crime Trump said: "Do I think? Yes, I think."

Former Ambassador to the United Nations and Fox News contributor John Bolton told “America’s Newsroom” that Rice’s requests may have been improper depending on what reason she gave for wanting the information.

“Now I’m not naïve, a national security adviser’s gonna get her request approved. But she still has to give some reason,” said Bolton, who served under former President George W. Bush. “If she doesn’t even have to give a reason than NSA is really quite negligent. Susan Rice is obviously not gonna say, ‘I want these names unmasked so I can surveil my political opponents.’ And if she said she wanted the names unmasked for national security reasons, that’s a fraud on the intelligence system.”

Shaffer said a U.S. citizen’s interaction with a foreign target is not typically reason enough to unmask an American.

“These techniques, technology and procedures are reserved for potential violations of U.S. laws,” he said, adding of Rice’s alleged actions: “It’s not only legally insufficient, it’s politically insane.”