Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice is back in the news. As most know, the former Obama aide has been the subject of interest concerning unmasking the identities of Americans serving on President-Elect at the time Donald Trump’s campaign and transition team staffs. Their identities were collected through Obama administration intelligence surveillance and subsequently revealed to the public by Obama officials. All of this stems from the congressional investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 election.
Last Thursday, on board Air Force One, when asked by reporters, President Trump ripped Susan Rice over the unmasking, saying that it was ‘just the tip of the iceberg …’ The President went on to say; “She’s not supposed to be doing that, and what she did was wrong. You know it. The unmasking and the surveillance, and I heard she admitted that yesterday. Just not right.” The President slammed the former Obama national security adviser days after she spoke to House investigators. His was in response to a question about a CNN report that she had admitted to unmasking the identities of his top Trump officials while tracking a foreign leader. Rice admitted to lawmakers last week that she unmasked Trump transition team officials even though earlier this year she denied knowing anything about it.
Rice revealed to the House intelligence committee that she had unmasked Trump transition team members in order to better understand why the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Emrati crown prince was visiting New York late last December 2106. Rice said the Obama administration “felt misled” by the UAE, who had not previously mentioned that the crown prince would be visiting the U.S. Rice’s admission also showed that the Trump transition team members were indeed caught-up in surveillance of a foreign target, confirming President Trump’s initial suspicions that his transition team was in fact being surveilled by the Obama administration. In my opinion, the Trump team suspected beforehand and knew they would be subject to and subsequently surveilled and collected on by the Obama intelligence entities, since his team was obviously well aware of the standard practice, process, and procedures.
The event focused on The UAE crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan’s visit to New York last December during the transition period before President-Elect Trump was sworn into office. During his New York visit Zayed had a three-hour meeting with several top Trump officials, including; national security adviser-select Michael Flynn, the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his senior strategist Steve Bannon, according to the leaked unmasked names.
The Obama administration apparently got wind and felt misled by the UAE, which had failed to mention to U.S. officials that Zayed was coming to the U.S. even though it’s customary for foreign dignitaries to notify the U.S. government about their travels to the U.S. Susan Rice told the House Intelligence Committee last week that she requested the names of the Americans mentioned in the classified report be revealed internally. Further, information does indicate that it was previously known about the UAE visit, just not that Zayed was part of the delegation.
As I have previously written, it is also common practice for foreign governments to contact either via phone or via visits to make initial introductions with the newly elected Presidents and their senior advisers prior to the inauguration. It’s entirely anticipated and expected. In this case, what we have learned is that the three-hour meeting, discussion focused on a wide range of issues, including; Iran, Yemen, and the Mideast peace process. I’ve also learned that the belief by the Obama administration that the discussion was about opening up a back-channel with Russia was not a topic of discussion at all. In fact, that was an entirely separate affair and meeting UAE officials had tried set-up, but did not involve the Trump transition staff members. Reporting is that the New York meeting preceded a separate effort by the UAE to facilitate a back-channel communication between Russia and the incoming Trump White House.
With regard to intelligence collection, to put this in perspective, speaking from experience, our Intelligence Community and its intelligence agencies in general use a series of terminologies to hide and protect a U.S. citizen’s identity that was not the subject of a FISA warrant, or any form of intelligence surveillance. Only in certain critical circumstances is a U.S. citizen’s identity authorized to be unmasked. Only if the information itself is public (meaning the result of a known situation), if it is critical to analysis, or if an American is suspected of being a foreign agent, then their identity would unmasked to better understand the circumstance as it pertains to the situation. This process is for internal U.S. intelligence and security purposes and the names are forbidden by law from being released publicly either officially or leaked. Further, and under no circumstances is it not meant for political purposes, which was the cause of concern with Susan Rice and other Obama senior aides and senior Trump officials.
Again, as I’ve addressed before with regard to intelligence surveillance, collection, and unmasking, when U.S. spy agencies eavesdrop on terrorists, foreign agents, or other intelligence targets identified by and subject to nation security inquiry, they often come across information about U.S. citizens who are not the target of their investigation. This “incidental collection” is not illegal or improper, but specially trained intelligence officers are required to go through an established procedure to protect the privacy of U.S. persons. The procedure is known as “minimization.” It should also be noted that, and this is important — U.S. persons are defined as U.S. citizens and permanent residents, no matter where they are in the world. So if a U.S. citizen is physically state-side (on U.S. soil), or in a foreign country it has no bearing. It is based on the fact that they are a valid U.S. citizen.
If a national security official who receives an intelligence report feels like he or she needs to know the identity of a U.S. person in an intelligence report, that official can make a request to “unmask.” The procedure for doing so is much stricter than the minimization process, and in fact is classified. There are roughly only about 20 senior officials at the National Security Agency (NSA) who have the authority to approve an unmasking. NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers corroborated that number to the House Intelligence Committee last month during his testimony. Admiral Rogers also noted that in certain cases, especially sensitive requests would come directly to his attention personally. He stated that; “I’m the senior-most of the 20 individuals. Requests will be pushed to my level, say ‘Hey, sir, we just want to make sure that you’re comfortable with this,'” he said.
As previously noted, and in contrast to what Admiral Rogers told the House Intelligence Committee, in April in an interview with MSNBC Susan Rice denied making requests to unmask the names of Trump associates for political purposes. Further, she described the process as routine, but declined to say specifically how often she made requests, or for what purposes. She noted; “There were occasions when I would receive a report in which a U.S. person was referenced. Name not provided, just a U.S. person.” She went on to say that; “… and sometimes in that context, in order to understand the importance of the report, and assess its significance, it was necessary to find out, or request the information, as to who the U.S. official was.” In April, Rice then changed her story on the unmasking, saying it was part of her job, but that it was not used as a political weapon.
Now, it is obviously apparent, and we understand why she decided to unmask the names of senior Trump team. That account became during an interview with PBS on April 4, Rice said, “I know nothing about this,” when she was asked if Trump and the people around him may have been caught-up in the surveillance of foreign individuals, and that their identities may have been disclosed. Hence, President Trump has taken aim at Rice for unmasking members of his campaign and transition team, whose identities were concealed in surveillance reports, and in addition, obviously were leaked to the media and public — since we are and have been talking about them publicly.
The real issue with Rice is that of credibility. She was caught lying to the public when she did the five Sunday morning talk shows after the Benghazi terror attack that left four Americans dead, so that she could tell the world a YouTube video was to blame. That was a lie. Yet, in keeping with tradition, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton likened Rice to “Typhoid Mary” while discussing his familiarity with “unmasking” procedures on the Senate Intelligence Committee, in his reference to her saying; “… she continues to be the “Typhoid Mary” of the Obama administration.”
It’s long been important to fully investigate the Russia controversy. While it is necessary to understand the Trump involvement during the transition, we need to know if the Obama administration politicized otherwise-proper foreign-surveillance operations. The facts contend the situation is far messier, and the Obama administration far more scandal-ridden than what is known so far. As far as I can see, don’t believe anything Rice says. Verify everything. It’s entirely possible that the new story is the true story, but there’s also no reason for a member of the public to accept it on faith — and certainly not on the basis of CNN reporting.
Secondly, it is important that we learn the truth about Susan Rice’s conduct in office, and therefore we cannot sweep even one more lie under the carpet. Rice’s previous statements directly contradict what she reportedly told the House Intelligence Committee last week as multiple sources confirmed that Rice admitted to unmasking members of the Trump transition team, as we covered.
While it is not illegal to unmask the identity of American citizens that are “incidentally” caught up in foreign surveillance, unmasking the name or names of Americans for political purposes is would be highly improper and likely a criminal act; leaking those names to the media would be a federal crime as well. Doing both, treasonous.
Someone with access to the names of the unmasked senior Trump officials did. In the coming days and weeks we can expect to see the mainstream media, Congressional Democrats, and left’s political pundits continue to try to play this off as a diversion; though we all now know she did unmask Trump transition officials.