And now, the Putin factor

Axios’s Jonathan Swan reports that Tucker Carlson was talking to U.S.-based Kremlin intermediaries about setting up an interview with Vladimir Putin shortly before Tucker accused the National Security Agency of monitoring his electronic communications for nefarious purposes — according to “sources familiar with the conversations.” Draw your own conclusions from this:

The NSA’s public statement didn’t directly deny that any Carlson communications had been swept up by the agency.

• Axios submitted a request for comment to the NSA on Wednesday, asking whether the agency would also be willing to categorically deny that the NSA intercepted any of Carlson’s communications in the context of monitoring somebody he was talking to in his efforts to set up an interview with Putin.

• An NSA spokesman declined to comment and referred Axios back to the agency’s earlier, carefully-worded, statement. In other words, the NSA is denying the targeting of Carlson but is not denying that his communications were incidentally collected.

What’s next: Experts say there are several plausible scenarios — including legal scenarios — that could apply.

• The first — and least likely — scenario is that the U.S. government submitted a request to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor Carlson to protect national security.

A more plausible scenario is that one of the people Carlson was talking to as an intermediary to help him get the Putin interview was under surveillance as a foreign agent.

• In that scenario, Carlson’s emails or text messages could have been incidentally collected as part of monitoring this person, but Carlson’s identity would have been masked in any intelligence reports.

• In order to know that the texts and emails were Carlson’s, a U.S. government official would likely have to request his identity be unmasked, something that’s only permitted if the unmasking is necessary to understand the intelligence.

In a third scenario, interceptions might not have involved Carlson’s communications. The U.S. government routinely monitors the communications of people in Putin’s orbit, who may have been discussing the details of Carlson’s request for an interview.

• But under this scenario, too, Carlson’s identity would have been masked in reports as part of his protections as a U.S. citizen, and unmasking would only be permitted if a U.S. government official requested that his identity be unmasked in order to understand the intelligence. And it’s not clear why that would be necessary here.

The intrigue: Two sources familiar with Carlson’s communications said his two Kremlin intermediaries live in the United States, but the sources could not confirm whether both are American citizens or whether both were on U.S. soil at the time they communicated with Carlson.

• This is relevant because if one of them was a foreign national and on foreign soil during the communications, the U.S. government wouldn’t necessarily have had to seek approval to monitor their communications.

Just what this story needed: Russia! Russia! Russia!

Whole thing here.

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