SUSAN RICE, FORMER PRESIDENT OBAMA'S RIGHT HAND MAN AND UNMASKER-IN-CHIEF)
THE NEW WORD OF THE HOUR IS UNMASKING. So we might as well figure out what it means, since we're going to be hearing a lot about it for weeks to come. It's a nice, seeming innocuous word for what may be a dynamite story with major national and international implications.
Here's a description of the term from today's Washington Examiner:
"UNMASKING" IS THE TERM BEING USED in the press about decisions to uncover people who were incidentally caught up in routine surveillance of foreign officials, which reportedly happened to members of President Trump's transition team.Got that? Unmasking means identifying anonymous people who are secretly spied on by the government for various reasons---including political gain. It appears that this surveillance happened to a number of Trump's inner circle before, during and after the November election by the inner circle of the Obama administration in order to de-legitimize Trump. Trump has been saying this all along. Now with this bombshell revelation that former NSA head Susan Rice---of Benghazi and Bergdahl fame---is the Obama operative who requested the "unmasking" to take place, it appears, the president might be right after all.
Here's how to think about the procedure that's being described, what unmasking can lead to, and why it matters:
U.S. intelligence agencies routinely do legal surveillance of foreign nationals thanks to a section of law in the "Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act," generally referred to as FISA. FISA only authorizes electronic surveillance of non-U.S. people, but it can pick up communications in which a U.S. citizen is one of the parties in the conversation. For example, if the ambassador another country under surveillance calls a U.S. citizen, both would be captured.
In that example, when the phone call or other communication is eventually transcribed into an intelligence product, the name of the U.S. citizen is not supposed to be identified in the document, to stay consistent with FISA. Instead, the intelligence agencies use a simple alias, such as "U.S. person number 1," rather his or her proper name. This is known as masking, and masking should also apply in cases where two foreign nationals simply mention the name of a U.S. citizen.
However, there are times when the intelligence agency needs to know the name of the person in the communication, and so they must ask that the alias be removed. Removing the alias is known as "unmasking."
There are legal reasons to unmask someone, and officials are required to follow proper procedures to make sure the unmasking is being done for a good reason. But it's also possible that someone could have been unmasked illegally, and that's what Trump's team says happened.
Specifically, Trump's team charges that the Obama administration unmasked some of the Trump transition team officials for political reasons, in order to show that Trump's team was talking to the Russians.
This is a very big story with major implications from a little harmless seeming word. Guess we'll have to stay tuned....