Obama aide Rice denies using intel to spy on Trump advisers
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Republicans are calling for answers amid reports that President Obama's former national security adviser unmasked Trump transition officials in intelligence documents that were disseminated throughout the intelligence community.
Nearly immediately, partisans on both sides leapt to put their spin on the new information, often times without regard for even the appearance of objectivity or factual accuracy.
Two weeks ago, Rice "knew nothing" about Devin Nunes's claims of incidental surveillance and "unmasking" of Trump staffers. The nature of that surveillance remains in dispute. The names included associates of Trump, which later emerged in media reports as having various ties to Russian Federation. I received those reports, as did each of those other officials, and there were occasions when I would receive a report in which a USA person was referred to.
Rice correctly said in her interview that policymakers sometimes request to know the identities of Americans from NSA reports to understand these reports in certain circumstances. So they're giving it to me, if I read it, and I think that in order for me to really understand is it significant or not so significant, I need to understand who the USA person is, I can make that request. "I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that count today". Name not provided, just a US person.
Like with anything in the government, there are of course exceptions to the rule, and the rules for "masking" the identities of USA persons are no different.
Rice's interview came amid a growing controversy that the Obama administration abused USA intelligence to spy on the Trump campaign and leak intelligence to the press to hurt Trump.
The authority to unmask is not widely held, and as a threshold matter is necessarily limited to the agency that collected the information itself.
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The names of US citizens "incidentally" mentioned in NSA reports are masked to preserve their identities because America's intelligence agencies are barred from spying on American citizens except in extraordinary circumstances with court approval.
This brings me back to the issue of Rice's conduct.
On Monday, two reports claimed that Rice, who was Obama's top national security aide, had helped reveal the identities of Trump officials whose communications were swept up in regular USA spying on foreign targets. But she noted a request is not automatically granted, even to her.
Unmasking can be routine and is considered necessary to understanding intelligence.
Rice allegedly maintained spreadsheets of Trump aides' telephone calls "one year before the 2016 presidential election", according to the Daily Caller. In all honesty, that scenario is unlikely and improbable, but certainly not impossible.
It is not illegal to improperly unmask an American's name. Former Obama Administration official Evelyn Farkas appeared to acknowledge Trump officials had been the subject of surveillance.
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Rice denied that she had leaked details about Flynn's call, saying, "I leaked nothing to nobody".
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