As tough as I have been on Devin Nunes and believe he is providing cover for the Trump administration, there are legitimate concerns about classified information being used for political purposes. We saw that with Michael Flynn. Despite his behavior, his name was unmasked and subsequently, illegally leaked to the press.
Democrats, particularly partisan hack Adam Schiff, are doing their best to be as self-righteous as possible about Nunes and Trump without caring one bit about the illegal leaking of Flynn’s name. For that, Schiff should recuse himself because he clearly has zero interest in going after illegal activity that benefitted Democrats, politically.
That said, the real interesting aspect to this story is how we got here. In short, thank Barack Obama.
For years, the NSA has been required to follow strict rules to protect the accidental intercepts of Americans from being consumed or misused by other government agencies. The rules required a process known as minimization, where the identity and information about an American who was intercepted is redacted or masked with generic references like “American No. 1.”
The number of senior government officials who could approve unmasking had been limited to just a few, like the NSA director himself.
But as the U.S. intelligence community became more worried over the last decade about its ability to locate lone wolf terrorists, foreign spies and hackers in an increasingly digital world, Bush and Obama began relaxing the rules for minimization and increasing access to NSA collected information on Americans. In short, the Obama administration created a standard set of “exceptions” to the minimization rules.
One of those relaxations came in 2011 when Attorney General Eric Holder sent a memo to the FISA court laying out the rules for sharing unmasked intercepts of Americans captured incidentally by the NSA. The court approved the approach.
In 2015, those rules were adapted to determine not only how the FBI got access to unmasked intelligence from NSA or FISA intercepts but also other agencies. One of the requirements, the NSA and FBI had to keep good records of who requested and gained access to the unredacted information.
And in his final days in office, Obama created the largest ever expansion of access to non-minimized NSA intercepts, creating a path for all U.S. intelligence to gain access to unmasked reports by changes encoded in a Reagan-era Executive Order 12333.
The government officials who could request or approve an exception to unmask a U.S. citizen’s identity has grown substantially. The NSA now has 20 executives who can approve the unmasking of American information inside intercepts, and the FBI has similar numbers.
It’s significant because Democrats have always been the ones squawking about privacy violations but there’s been nary a whisper from them just so long as it helps them politically.