Sara Carter of Circa reports that former Obama administration National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes has emerged as a person of interest in the House Intelligence Committee’s unmasking investigation. Carter cites a letter sent yesterday by the committee to the National Security Agency (NSA). The letter requests the number of unmasking requests made by Rhodes from Jan. 1, 2016 to Jan. 20, 2017, according to Carter’s sources.
Susan Rice, Samantha Power, and John Brennan have also been named in the Committee’s investigation into the unmasking of Americans. It appears that Rhodes now occupies a place in that rogues’ gallery.
The underlying issue stems from indications that top Obama aides made hundreds of unmasking requests during the 2016 presidential election season. It appears they did so without offering specific justification for why the unmasking was necessary.
Rice and Brennan have confirmed that they sought the unredacted names of Americans in NSA-sourced intelligence reports, but insist their requests were routine parts of their work and had no nefarious intentions. Power also has legal authority to unmask officials, though Carter notes that the practice is not thought to be common for someone in her position.
Suspicion is raised not by the existence of the requests, but by their extent. Law enforcement and intelligence officials tell Carter that unmasking requests for intelligence and analytical purposes are made only when the information is absolutely necessary to analyze a specific threat or for other national security purposes. Demonstrating that necessity is burdensome. According to one source, it can entail filling out 80 pages of paperwork to prove there is a need to unmask.
If Rice, Brennan, Rhodes, and/or Power unmasked without painstakingly demonstrating the necessity of doing so, or if they unmasked excessively, then they abused their power. Moreover, the inference would arise that they did so for partisan political purposes.
These practices would also jeopardize reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which is set to expire at the end of the year. Section 702 of that Act allows a secret federal court to approve, under specified conditions, the collection of communications on foreign persons overseas at the request of the intelligence community.
If Section 702 has become a backdoor for unmasking Americans without cause, then Congress may decide not to reauthorize the Act. Indeed, Peter Hoekstra, former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a supporter of the NSA programs in question, says “it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if there isn’t enough votes to reauthorize the program, unless this situation can be resolved.”
It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if top Obama administration officials abused their power for partisan political purposes, thereby undermining support for key intelligence programs that protect our security. The House committee’s investigation will, I hope, tell us whether this was the case.