Reading the NSA denial

Fred Fleitz has held national security jobs for 25 years with the CIA, DIA, Department of State, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. He served in 2018 as deputy assistant to the president and chief of staff of the National Security Council. When it comes to intelligence matters, he has the background to comment credibly. He currently serves as president and CEO of the Center for Security Policy.

In his Federalist column “The NSA Does Not Deny Reading Tucker Carlson’s Emails,” Fleitz gives a close reading to the NSA’s statement on the allegation that it has monitored Tucker Carlson’s electronic communications.

“I laughed when Fox News host Tucker Carlson said a National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower told him that agency was monitoring his emails to leak them in an attempt to take his show off the air,” he writes. “From my 19 years as a CIA analyst and five years with House Intelligence Committee staff,” he adds, “I found this impossible to believe for three reasons.”

However, the NSA statement in response to Carlon’s allegation has prompted Fleitz to reconsider:

Let’s be very clear about what the NSA said in its statement. It denied “targeting” Carlson, but did not deny reading his emails. The NSA also did not deny that it may have accessed Carlson’s communications through “incidental collection.”

These were huge omissions, since incidental collection is a well-known and controversial way the NSA collects vast amounts of Americans’ communications without warrants. This happens when an innocent American communicates with a legitimate NSA target, such as someone believed to be under the control of or to be collaborating with a hostile foreign power.

When this happens, the name of the innocent American is supposed to be “redacted” or masked. There are very strict rules on how incidentally collected communications of U.S citizens can be used.

Given the controversy that arose from Obama officials requesting the names of Trump campaign officials be “unmasked” in 2016, tougher rules were enacted to protect the identities of the communications of Americans that the NSA incidentally collected. In addition, in 2017 the NSA claims it ended its controversial “upstream collection” surveillance practice of collecting email traffic of American citizens merely because it contained an email address or phone number of a foreign target.

The NSA’s non-denial of Carlson’s allegations therefore raises some serious questions. Why did the NSA not flatly state it never accessed Carlson’s communications? Were Carlson’s communications “unmasked” at the request of White House officials?

Fleitz concludes that he “may have been wrong and Carlson may be right. The NSA only denied Carlson was an intelligence target. It did not deny reading his emails or violating his privacy rights.”

Notice: All comments are subject to moderation. Our comments are intended to be a forum for civil discourse bearing on the subject under discussion. Commenters who stray beyond the bounds of civility or employ what we deem gratuitous vulgarity in a comment — including, but not limited to, “s***,” “f***,” “a*******,” or one of their many variants — will be banned without further notice in the sole discretion of the site moderator.