By Tom Fitton
President, Judicial Watch
In its final year the Obama administration may have used our nation’s spy apparatus to identify, or “unmask,” members of the Trump campaign and subsequently leaking information about them to the press.
One of the more curious details about this unlawful effort was that Obama’s U.N. ambassador was evidently engaged in unmasking and was doing so at a frenzied pace. We want to know more.
So, we have filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of State for “unmasking” and other records tied to Obama’s United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power relating to the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:18-cv-00300)).
Unmasking refers generally to the practice of political appointees obtaining the identities of American citizens referenced in intelligence surveillance of foreign nationals.
We sued the State Department after it failed to respond to our October 31, 2017, FOIA request seeking information about Power’s unusual unmasking requests, including:
All requests for information submitted to any Intelligence Community member agency by former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power concerning, regarding, or relating to the following:
- Any actual or suspected effort by the Russian government or any individual acting on behalf of the Russian government to influence or otherwise interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
- The alleged hacking of computer systems utilized by the Democratic National Committee and/or the Clinton presidential campaign.
- Any actual or suspected communication between any member of the Trump presidential campaign or transition team and any official or employee of the Russian government or any individual acting on behalf of the Russian government.
- The identities of U.S. citizens associated with the Trump presidential campaign or transition team who were identified pursuant to intelligence collection activities.
On September 20, 2017, Fox News reported that Power unmasked over 260 persons in her last year as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in an attempt to uncover associates of President Trump. She “was ‘unmasking’ at such a rapid pace in the final months of the Obama administration that she averaged more than one request for every working day in 2016,” even seeking “information in the days leading up to President Trump’s inauguration.”
On October 13, 2017, Power testified behind closed doors about this matter to the House Intelligence Committee. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, who also sits on the Intelligence Committee, stated that, “Her testimony is they [the unmasking requests] may be under my name, but I did not make those requests.”
Unmasking and then illegally leaking the names of Trump team members caught up in foreign intelligence gathering would have been an incredible, but unsurprising abuse by the Obama administration. Was the Clinton-DNC dossier also used as justification to abuse intelligence data and “unmask” American citizens to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Donald Trump? And why is the Tillerson State Department stonewalling our FOIA investigation into this potentially illegal conduct by its agency employees?
Separately, in a response to a FOIA request, we were told by the National Security Council (NSC) in May 2017 that the materials regarding the unmasking by Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice of “the identities of any U.S. citizens associated with the Trump presidential campaign or transition team” have been removed to the Obama Library.
We filed a separate FOIA lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Security Agency (NSA) for information about Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s communications with the two agencies concerning the alleged Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, the hacking of DNC computers, the suspected communications between Russia and Trump campaign/transition officials, and the unmasking of the identities of any U.S. citizens associated with the Trump presidential campaign or transition team who were identified pursuant to intelligence collection activities (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Justice and National Security Administration (No. 1:17-cv-01002)).
Remember, if they can do it to Donald Trump and other political opponents, they can do it to you. This is why Judicial Watch is battling in court for answers now….