A mounting unmasking scandal investigation is leading right to the Obama White House and to a former Obama administration United Nations ambassador. Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, which is handling the investigation, has blown the lid off of what could well turn out to be one of the most egregious violations of Americans’ 4th Amendment privacy rights in the nation’s history.
In a July 27th letter to Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, Rep. Nunes expressed the concern of his committee that government officials may have abused their authority to request the unmasking of U.S. person identities sourced from raw intelligence reports. The raw intelligence, which included the names of some Americans, focused on foreign individuals’ communications of interest to intelligence agencies. Some of those communications may have been with Americans caught up in the intelligence surveillance.
Rep. Nunes said in his letter that “Obama-era officials sought the identities of Trump transition officials within intelligence reports.” One official, the letter said, “whose position had no apparent intelligence-related function, made hundreds of unmasking requests during the final year of the Obama administration” (emphasis in the original). Rep. Nunes added that in the absence of individual, fact-based justifications for such unmasking, “the Committee is left with the impression that these officials may have used this information for improper purposes, including the possibility of leaking. More pointedly, some of the requests for unminimized U.S. person information were followed by anonymous leaks of those names to the media.”
During the final days of the Obama presidency, Obama administration officials widely disseminated information across government agencies regarding intelligence purportedly linking Trump officials to Russian contacts. Some of that information has been leaked to the press, most notably leaked transcripts of retired General and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s communications with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.
Rep. Nunes’ July 27th letter did not provide any specific names of Obama-era officials who allegedly made the unmasking requests, including unmasking of the identities of Trump transition officials. However, in a letter sent Tuesday by the House Intelligence Committee to the National Security Agency (NSA), former Obama White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes was specifically named as a person of interest.
Circa’s Sara Carter has reported that Rhodes’ name was added “to the growing list of top Obama government officials who may have improperly unmasked Americans in communications intercepted overseas by the NSA.” The intelligence committee, Sara Carter wrote, is “requesting the number of unmaskings made by Rhodes from Jan. 1, 2016 to Jan. 20, 2017.”
Rhodes was the Obama-era official who boasted about creating “an echo chamber” in the press to sell the Obama administration’s disastrous Iran nuclear deal. Rhodes was subsequently reported to be part of “a small task force of Obama loyalists who deluged media outlets with stories aimed at eroding Flynn's credibility,” according to multiple sources cited by the Washington Free Beacon. Their purpose was to preserve Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, which Flynn strongly opposed. They did not want to risk Flynn’s disclosure of “secret details of the nuclear deal with Iran that had been long hidden by the Obama administration,” according to the Washington Free Beacon report.
Thus, Rhodes had both motive and opportunity to abuse his authority to request the unmasking of the identities of Americans while still serving as deputy national security adviser during the waning days of the Obama administration, particularly if they involved the identities of Trump campaign and transition officials such as Flynn.
Ben Rhodes’ involvement in the actual leaking of the Flynn transcript has not yet been definitively established. However, in a tweet on March 2, 2017, after the leak occurred, Rhodes revealed how he felt about the public exposure of the Russian contacts: “Flynn, Kushner, Manafort, Page, Sessions all meet with Russians pre-inauguration. Why? And why go to such lengths to conceal these contacts?”
Rhodes is far from the only Obama-era official involved in unmasking the identities of Americans. Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice and former CIA Director John Brennan have admitted seeking to know the identities of Americans in NSA-sourced intelligence reports. However, they claimed these were routine requests made in the normal course of their work. Both Rice and Brennan have had troubles in the past with telling the truth. Whether they are telling the truth now with regard to their unmasking justifications remains to be seen.
Obama’s former UN Ambassador Samantha Power is also reported to have sought the unmasking of the identities of Americans on multiple occasions. In fact, she may well have been the unnamed official Rep. Nunes had referred to in his July 27th letter as having “made hundreds of unmasking requests during the final year of the Obama administration,” even though the official’s “position had no apparent intelligence-related function.” Although Samantha Power was technically authorized to make unmasking requests, there is no conceivable basis for a United Nations ambassador to legitimately seek to know the identities of Americans from raw intelligence reports on hundreds of occasions in just one year’s time.
It is reasonable to suppose that Samantha Power, who has been named in the House Intelligence Committee's investigation, was looking for damaging information on Trump and his advisers from classified intelligence reports related to Trump and his presidential transition team. As a veteran congressional adviser who has been briefed by senior Intelligence Committee members explained to the Washington Free Beacon, "The Obama folks may have made a deliberate decision to use Power, even though they knew it would risk giving away their unmasking campaigns, because she had no business making those requests. What was so bad they had to use her for the requests, rather than someone who would have had a better excuse but may have balked?"
The mainstream media has obsessed on the so-called Russian collusion story in an effort to embarrass President Trump and derail his agenda. There is mounting evidence that Obama-era officials helped light the fire under this story by abusing their access to highly sensitive classified intelligence information in order to destroy the Trump administration in its infancy. If proven to be true, these officials colluded in a direct, unprecedented assault on our democratic institutions and Americans’ constitutional rights.