Written by: Stephen Hsu
Primary Source: Information Processing
I hope this scandal will focus additional attention on massive bulk collection and preservation of private communications of US citizens by NSA.
Media discussion continues to focus on “unmasking” = dissemination of identities of US individuals. However, I have yet to see discussion of whether someone like Rice could order specific database searches (e.g., by NSA, of preserved records) on a specific individual to acquire intercepts such as voice transcripts, emails, etc. It doesn’t seem to become an unmasking until that information is distributed in the form of an intelligence report (or, is such a request automatically an unmasking?). The search results alone constitute an invasion of individual privacy. It is unclear to me who has access to such results, and under what conditions the searches can be requested. There are well known instances of NSA employees abusing these powers: see LOVEINT. Could the White House order something similar without a record trail? (See excerpt added below.)
Former national security adviser Susan Rice made multiple requests for the identities of people connected to the transition team of Donald Trump contained in raw intelligence reports, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter. Bloomberg View columnist Eli Lake has the details.
From Nunes, Trump, Obama and Who Watches the Watchers?, this is the legal standard that the Susan Rice unmaskings will be judged by:
Section VI: … An IC element may disseminate U.S. person information “derived solely from raw SIGINT” under these procedures … if … the information is “necessary to understand the foreign intelligence or counterintelligence information,”
Richard Haas notes that this kind of activity on the part of Susan Rice and NSC staff is only justifiable under “extraordinary circumstances”!
Added (from comments):
The Observer: … In addition, Rice didn’t like to play by the rules, including the top-secret ones. On multiple occasions, she asked the NSA to do things they regarded as unethical and perhaps illegal. When she was turned down — the NSA fears breaking laws for any White House, since they know they will be left holding the bag in the end — Rice kept pushing.
As a longtime NSA official who experienced Rice’s wrath more than once told me, “We tried to tell her to pound sand on some things, but it wasn’t allowed—we were always overruled.” On multiple occasions, Rice got top Agency leadership to approve things which NSA personnel on the front end of the spy business refused. This means there may be something Congress and the FBI need to investigate here.
John Schindler is a security expert and former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer. A specialist in espionage and terrorism, he’s also been a Navy officer and a War College professor. He’s published four books and is on Twitter at @20committee.