The news outlets on a daily basis are a cacophony of Russian collusion and Special Counsel investigation talk. But why haven’t we heard anything over the past several months (actually more like 1 year) about the surveilling and what has been described to be constant and possible illegal unmasking of American citizens’ identities in these surveillances? Specifically the allegations leveled that President Trump and his transition team were unmasked and “spied on”, potentially at the request of the outgoing Obama administration?
Here is what unmasking is and why it is important:
“Unmasking” is the term used about decisions to uncover people who were incidentally caught up in routine surveillance of foreign officials.
U.S. intelligence agencies routinely do legal surveillance of foreign nationals thanks to a section of law in the “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,” generally referred to as FISA.
FISA only authorizes electronic surveillance of non-U.S. people, but it can pick up communications in which a U.S. citizen is one of the parties in the conversation. For example, if the ambassador another country under surveillance calls a U.S. citizen, both would be captured.
In that example, when the phone call or other communication is eventually transcribed into an intelligence product, the name of the U.S. citizen is not supposed to be identified in the document, to stay consistent with FISA. Instead, the intelligence agencies use a simple alias, such as “U.S. person number 1,” rather his or her proper name. This is known as masking, and masking should also apply in cases where two foreign nationals simply mention the name of a U.S. citizen.
However, there are times when the intelligence agency needs to know the name of the person in the communication, and so they must ask that the alias be removed. Removing the alias is known as “unmasking.”
There are legal reasons to unmask someone, and officials are required to follow proper procedures to make sure the unmasking is being done for a good reason. But it’s also possible that someone could have been unmasked illegally, and that’s what is alleged to have happened to the Trump team.
Specifically, the Obama administration unmasked some of the Trump transition team officials for political reasons, in order to show that Trump’s team was talking to the Russians.
In addition to having procedures meant to keep private the names of U.S. people incidentally caught up in foreign surveillance, the law says the amount of time that the document is kept should be low, and sharing the document between agents and agencies should also be kept low.
Beginning over 2 years ago, several high profile politicians have asked for a more ramped up investigation of these abuses, including several requests by the President himself.
What then has happened then to the probe? Is it still secretly going on? Has it been swept under the rug? Has it been deemed to be utter nonsense? Whatever the case maybe, it is no longer being discussed by the news or publicly by government officials. Trump seems to be the only one that still remembers as evidenced by the following tweets:
…allegations of unmasking Trump transition officials. Not good!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 4, 2017
Such amazing reporting on unmasking and the crooked scheme against us by @foxandfriends. "Spied on before nomination." The real story.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 3, 2017
The big story is the "unmasking and surveillance" of people that took place during the Obama Administration.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 1, 2017
With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2018
Can anyone even imagine having Spies placed in a competing campaign, by the people and party in absolute power, for the sole purpose of political advantage and gain? And to think that the party in question, even with the expenditure of far more money, LOST!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 25, 2018