The term “unmasking” refers to the practice of political appointees obtaining the identities of American citizens referenced in intelligence surveillance of foreign nationals.
Unmasking has a legitimate purpose, but in the final months of the Obama administration, his lieutenants were abusing the process as they frantically looked for dirt on the Trump campaign.
Reportedly, one of the worst abusers was Obama’s U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power. In 2017, it was reported that Power unmasked over 260 persons in her last year as Ambassador 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.”
We have now filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the State Department over requests by Power to unmask the identities of U.S. citizens whose names appear in intelligence reports concerning Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:20-cv-01729)).
We sued after the Justice Department failed to respond to a May 29, 2019, FOIA request for:
- All requests for information submitted to any Intelligence Community member agency by former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power concerning:
- Any actual or suspected effort by the Russian government or any individual acting on behalf of the Russian government to influence 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.
- All records or responses received by former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and/or any representative of United States Mission to the United Nations in response to any request described in part 1 of this request.
- All records of communication between any representative of any Intelligence Community member agency and former United States Ambassador to the United Nation Samantha Power and/or any representative of the United States Mission to the United Nations concerning any request described in part 1 of this request.
Our FOIA request and this lawsuit were filed after a similar 2018 lawsuit filed in 2018 (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of State(No. 18-0300)), which derived from an October 31, 2017 FOIA request, was closed on March 3, 2019. The court upheld the Department of State’s response that it need not disclose whether or not responsive records existed for national security reasons. This new lawsuit argues that the State Department’s earlier Glomarresponse (that it could neither confirm nor deny whether records existed) was no longer sustainable:
On May 13, 2020, the Director of National Intelligence released a newly declassified memorandum and accompanying list identifying officials who submitted requests to the National Security Agency (“NSA”) to “unmask” the identity of former National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn in NSA foreign intelligence reports. The list demonstrates that, between November 30, 2016 and January 11, 2017, Ambassador Power submitted seven requests to “unmask” Flynn’s identity in such NSA foreign intelligence reports and that all seven requests were approved.
The entire world now knows the Obama administration went on an unprecedented fishing expedition that involved unmasking General Flynn but almost certainly others tied to the Trump campaign, including the President and his family. For almost three years, the State Department has been stonewalling our request for information for this basic Obamagate information. We hope the court tears down this stone wall around the worst corruption scandal in American history.
We argue that at least some of Ambassador Power’s unmasking requests likely concerned intelligence reports about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and therefore relate to the subject matter of our May 29, 2019, FOIA request.
There is a long history related to Samantha Power’s and “unmasking” activities that lend credence to this argument.
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 sat 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.”
In 2019, Power’s political bias came into question because of her harsh comments about President Trump found in her official government emails.
Then in May of this year, Power’s name appears on the unmasking list for General Flynn seven times, even though she testified under oath before Congress that she had “no recollection” of ever making such a request.
Our intelligence agencies have vast powers, and Obama used them illegally to spy on political opponents. This can’t be allowed to stand. And we aim to uncover the truth about this terrible corruption.