Geostrategy-Direct–Three top-level Obama administration officials have been subpoenaed by a House committee looking into the improper unmasking of Americans who were surveilled during foreign intelligence gathering operations.
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence early June ordered the National Security Agency, FBI, and CIA to produce records on all requests made by the three senior officials for the names of Americans redacted in electronic intercepts of conversations of foreign officials, U.S. officials said.
The three officials are former CIA Director John Brennan, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice and former UN Ambassador Samantha Power.
“It’s clear that people on the Hill have found indications that high-level officials of the Obama administration weaponized American intelligence,” a senior U.S. official told security correspondent Bill Gertz.
The improper unmasking activities have been largely ignored by most news media that have instead focused extensive coverage on the allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The subpoenas were issued by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican, who in April revealed that “dozens” of classified intelligence reports appeared to have improperly unmasked the names of Americans inadvertently spied on during foreign intelligence surveillance operations, Gertz reported on June 2 in the Washington Free Beacon.
Nunes was sidelined from the committee’s Russia inquiry after a leftist media monitoring group alleged he disclosed classified information. The House Ethics Committee has launched an inquiry into the allegation.
The ethics panel has ignored similar allegations lodged against the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Adam Schiff, California Democrat, who appears to have disclosed classified information in public discussion of former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s intercepted conversation with the Russian ambassador.
In addition to the subpoenas for unmasking request records, the committee also issued four related to the Russia aspect of the probe. They include notices to Flynn and Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal lawyer, Gertz’s report said.
While they have offered some cooperation to the committee, the NSA, FBI, and CIA have not provided details sought by investigators. The subpoenas are meant to compel the three agencies’ cooperation on the matter.
Procedures for electronic intercepts that incidentally spy on Americans require blacking out the names of the Americans in a bid to protect their privacy rights.
In cases usually limited to those involving terrorists or foreign intelligence operatives communicating with Americans, senior government officials can request that hidden names contained in raw transcripts be revealed in order to better understand the context of conversations. The unmasking is restricted to officials with a need to know and the dissemination of the revealed names is supposed to be limited within intelligence and government agencies.
House investigators believe the Obama administration sought to exploit the intelligence reports by first obtaining the masked names and then widely disseminating the reports in a bid to make identifying any leaks to the press more difficult, Gertz’s report said.
The officials said the probe into possible political intelligence gathering by the Obama administration is now a separate inquiry from the Russia probe that has been dominating major news outlets’ coverage.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is also investigating the matter but its inquiry appears to be limited to the Russia allegations. Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by President Trump in part for continuing the Russian counterintelligence investigation, is set to testify before the Senate panel on June 8.
Rice, the former White House adviser, earlier this month told CNN she would not testify before a Senate subcommittee investigating the Russia.
Rice called allegations she misused intelligence “absolutely false.”
Brennan, a career CIA analyst who also worked closely with Obama in the White House before moving to CIA, disclosed during his testimony that he requested that the FBI investigate Trump associates during the 2016 presidential campaign after intelligence reports indicated ties between campaign aides and Russians.
Critics have charged Brennan with politicizing the CIA during his tenure as director, limiting the agency’s espionage capabilities.
Power declined to comment through a spokesman. Rice and Brennan did not return emails seeking comment.