For the sake of understanding this specific release, “unmasking” occurs when the NSA, eavesdropping on foreign communications, sweeps up communications with U.S. citizen. That is known as “incidental collection.”
When the intelligence about that communication is shared across the government, the names of U.S. citizens in the communication are typically concealed or masked to protect their identities. However, the names can be unmasked if U.S. officials make the request.
In this release [pdf here], the Obama-era NSA was monitoring various foreign government officials and within their communication they picked up contacts with incoming President-elect Trump’s National Security Advisor Lt. General Michael Flynn. This release only includes NSA intercepts; not other intelligence agency reports; only the NSA.
The NSA generated [redacted number] of reports based on those foreign contacts. The reports are actual transcripts of the conversations. The Obama-era officials then asked the NSA to unmask the name of General Flynn so they could see the content and context of the calls. Current DNI Ric Grenell has assembled a list of who asked the NSA to unmask incoming NSA Michael Flynn from November 8, 2016 through January 31, 2017.
It is important to remember, these intercepts are part of the normal function of monitoring foreign communications. There is nothing nefarious about the monitoring and there is nothing nefarious about a foreign person contacting the incoming administration, via General Flynn, to begin preparing for the change in administrations.
However, what is completely alarming and disturbing, is the extent to which the Obama administration went to share the contacts and transcripts of the calls with a myriad of government officials. That’s where the list comes in.
The Obama administration officials obviously wanted to know and disseminate the communication of incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
UN Ambassador Samantha Power made 6 requests to the NSA. DNI James Clapper made 3 requests… and so it goes.
Most of the unmasking happens before the now infamous Michael Flynn phone call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on December 29, 2016. Some unmasking requests were before and after that call.
Again, these are intercepted communications from the NSA monitoring of foreign government officials. There’s nothing surprising about the capture itself. Nor is it surprising they would be contacting General Flynn. The issue is the distribution and leaking… These NSA “reports” are actually the transcripts of the phone calls.
Note above there are numerous requests in/around mid December. This is when the “muh Russia” conspiracy narrative was being pushed hardest. If you reference the Peter Strzok & Lisa Page text messages at the same timeframe you’ll note they talk about “sister” or sister agencies leaking.
Sister agencies is the CIA specifically but also includes DoD (defense) and DoS (State); all connected to the counterintelligence and foreign intelligence services.
Here’s the CURRENT DNI release:
Below is an important video to help understand the dynamic and the issues.
Note carefully that ADM Mike Rogers is purposefully reminding Senator Graham the FBI actually generates more unmasking due to their surveillance, investigations, and counterintelligence operations. If you are planning to stay up-to-date please watch this and it will help you not to get lost later.
We already know Flynn was a target for the counterintelligence operations of the FBI. The unmasking of Flynn within all of that surveillance and subsequent report assembly is another tranche of intelligence that could be declassified. This part is where John Durham and Bill Barr are presumably focused.
The NSA release today only touches one part of a much bigger intelligence network… the transcripts of calls between Flynn and foreign government officials at certain dates; and the Obama administration wanting to use that information to push a Trump-Russia collusion narrative in the transition period.
There will be more to come… This NSA release is only one tranche.