The House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, between June 2016 and January 2017 requested five or six individuals or organizations tied to Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump be “unmasked,” the Washington Post Friday evening reports. It is a stunning revelation, given Chairman Nunes himself has insisted the bigger issue is not collusion between the Trump team and Russia, or Russian hacking of the DNC or the election, but the violation of civil rights of U.S. citizens via illegal unmasking by the Obama administration – a charge for which he has provided zero proof.
“According to a tally by U.S. spy agencies, the House Intelligence Committee requested five to six unmaskings of U.S. organizations or individuals related to [Donald] Trump or Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton between June 2016 and January 2017,” the Washington Post reports.
“Officials familiar with the matter said that the committee’s requests focused on the identities of U.S. organizations that had been hacked by the Russians in 2016. Officials declined to say how many of the requests came from Democrats vs. Republicans.”
“Unmasking” is revealing the identity of individuals or organizations whose conversations or other data are caught up in the massive monitoring of overseas calls and other communications by U.S. intelligence agencies. Those agencies typically “mask,” or hide, the identities of U.S. citizens to protect their rights and because typically it’s not necessary for their identities to be known for agents to obtain the information they need. Unmasking is not in itself illegal, but doing so for political gain or other corrupt reasons, likely would be.
But select individuals, from executive branch officials to members of Congress with proper clearance, can request unmasking. Those requests are not automatically granted, but examined and granted or not by intelligence officials.
Nunes’ earlier this year had created such an uproar by claiming Obama-era individuals had inappropriately requested unmasking, suggesting they did so to illegally spy on the Trump campaign. He was unable to provide any proof of wrongdoing, and following public outrage and the condemnation of all Democrats on his Committee he ultimately recused himself from leading the investigation into Russia’s interference into he U.S. election.
Recently, however, it has been learned Nunes still, and inappropriately, is involved in the Russia investigation. He also this week issued subpoenas to three former Obama administration officials to testify on their any requests they made to unmask U.S. individuals. Those subpoenaed are Obama national security adviser Susan Rice, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and former CIA Director John Brennan.
All this makes Nunes’ tweet on Thursday all the more offensive and hypocritical:
Seeing a lot of fake news from media elites and others who have no interest in violations of Americans’ civil liberties via unmaskings.
— Devin Nunes (@DevinNunes) June 1, 2017
On Thursday ThinkProgress reported “Devin Nunes and Trump are still working together in attempt to manufacture [an] ‘unmasking’ scandal.”
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