by WorldTribune Staff, July 28, 2017
During President Barack Obama’s last year in office, his aides made hundreds of requests to unmask the names of Americans in intelligence reports, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said.
The requests during an election year, which included Trump transition team officials, were made without specific justifications on why the information was needed, Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican, said in a letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.
“We have found evidence that current and former government officials had easy access to U.S. person information and that it is possible that they used this information to achieve partisan political purposes, including the selective, anonymous leaking of such information,” Nunes wrote in the letter, which was provided to media outlets from a source in the intelligence community.
Nunes, in the letter, said that “The committee has learned that one official, whose position had no apparent intelligence related function, made hundreds of unmasking requests during the final year of the Obama administration. Of those requests, only one offered a justification that was not boilerplate.”
Sources familiar with the Nunes letter identified the official as former UN Ambassador Samantha Power.
David Pressman, counsel to Power and partner at Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, denied the former ambassador leaked anything classified.
“Long before receiving an invitation to engage the Congressional committees, Ambassador Power was unambiguous about her support of bipartisan efforts to determine the full extent of this threat to our national security,” Pressman said in a statement. “While serving as our Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Power was also a member of the National Security Council responsible for advising the President on the full-range of threats confronting the United States. Any insinuation that Ambassador Power was involved in leaking classified information is absolutely false.”
Obama administration national security adviser Susan Rice and CIA Director John Brennan have acknowledged making such unmasking requests but insist the requests were for legitimate work reasons.
Nunes, who called the lack of proper justification for the unmasking attempts a “serious deficiency,” said he plans to introduce a bill requiring “individual, fact-based justifications” for such unmasking requests.
“Cabinet members and other senior political leaders cannot be permitted to continue to seek access to U.S. person information within disseminated intelligence reports without documenting a specific, fact-based requirement for the information,” Nunes wrote in the letter to Coats.
In 2011, Obama loosened the rules to make it unmasking requests easier for intelligence officials and his own political aides. The change was criticized by liberal groups like the ACLU and conservatives because of the privacy implications.