Comments: 6 ..
By Randy Snyder
Lately in the news and on here on NT there have been a great number of stories accusing former National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, of breaking the law somehow by supposedly "demasking" members of the Trump Campaign and transition team. Many of these attacks seem to stem from a basic misunderstanding of what the job of a National Security Advisor is, what their responsibilities are and what the limits of their powers are. Of course in some cases and if one is cynical (as I admit that I am sometimes) it could be argued that the people making the arguments know full well what the duties, limitations and responsibilities of the National Security Advisor are, but are intentionally distorting them for political reasons. To throw up some sort of smoke screen as a distraction from their things in the news that they don't want the spotlight on. One would hope that they or at least the ones here on NT would be more honest then that. Here is an answer (with some spelling corrections) I gave to someone who seemed confused in a posted article a few days ago who accused Susan Rice of personally unmasking member of the Trump campaign and transition team. I hope it will answer some questions:
Well, Susan Rice would get reports from the various intelligence agencies and of course the President would get his own report from the CIA. Her job then was to sift through all of the reports and construct a summary for the President. Part of her reports that she received would be intercepts of phone calls of foreign nationals that the intelligence agencies had decided, for whatever reason (they decided who) needed to be monitored, such as the Russian Ambassador, known FSB officers, etc. On some of those phone calls the participants might be talking about an American or one of the people on the call might be an American (the agencies can not monitor calls originated by Americans except with a FISA warrant or a criminal warrant from a local court and the President can not order one).
In the cases where an American name is involved the agency listening "masks" the name by redacting it from the reports it sends to the White House. If the National Security Advisor (Susan Rice at the time) feels she can not give the President a clear enough picture of the intelligence without knowing the name of the redacted American (because at this point she has no idea who it is) then she requests the information from the reporting agency and the reporting agency decides if they feel it is safe to release the name to the President via his National Security Advisor. Until the agency decides to unmask the name neither the National Security Advisor (Susan Rice) nor the President have any idea of who the redacted name is. So it is impossible for Susan Rice or the President to say go to the agencies and ask for all information with Trump campaign and/or transition team because the agencies involved do not store or release information by names.
Now, considering that the President and Susan Rice had both been informed in July by the FBI that it was investigating possible ties and collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, it would have been a dereliction of both of their duty not to pay special attention to intercepts that involve Russians. At the same time the top members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees were also informed and keep informed. Even so, the only possible way any names of anyone involved with the Trump campaign or transition could come to the attention of the White House is if they came up in conversations recorded while intercepting Russian calls or if they were one of the people on one of the calls with a Russian under surveillance.
Also the only way names of any members of the Trump campaign could become known to Susan Rice or the President would be if Susan Rice request that the name be unmasked and that the agency who provided the report in the first place reviewed it and decided to unmask the name to her. Susan Rice, nor any National Security Advisor has the power to unmask any name in any classified report, so the news reports that she has unmasked names of some of the members of the Trump campaign are simply impossible to have happened, She, or any National Security Advisor, does not have that power or authority. It is strictly up to the agency she submits the request to, to review the request from her and then to decide if they want to reveal the name to her.
Now a word about masked and unmasked. As I explained when an American intelligence agency intercepts a communication between a member of a foreign power speaking to another member of a foreign power and an American name is mentioned, that American's name is masked. It is redacted or blanked out from reports sent to the National Security Advisor. Also when an agency intercepts a communication between a member of a foreign power speaking to an American, again the Americans name is masked. Now, when the National Security Advisor requests that the American's name be unmasked so they may present a clearer picture of the latest in national security, that does not mean that it becomes public knowledge. It is not the same as declassifying it. The name stays classified and remains classified between the National Security Advisor, the agency that unmasked it and the President. So, unmasking an American's name is not something an National Security Advisor (such as Susan Rice) has the power to do, so they can not commit the crime of unmasking names. It is impossible for them to do. They must request it from the agency that masked it and get their approval after a review of the request by them. As I said, when it is unmasked at does not mean it is unclassified, nor available to the public.