Fred Fleitz: Identities of Unmasking Requesters ‘Not Classified,’ Release Them All

President Barack Obama hosts meeting of his National Security Council (NSC) at the State Department in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016. The meeting is to focus on the global campaign to degrade and destroy ISIL as well as Syria and other regional issues. Seated with the president from left, Joint …
Carolyn Kaster/AP

Fred Fleitz, president and CEO of the Center for Security Policy, called on the Trump administration to release the names of all Obama administration officials who submitted unmasking requests for the identities of U.S. persons whose communications were surveilled by federal intelligence agencies.

An “astounding” number of Obama administration officials — 39, according to a list compiled by acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell — made requests to unmask the identity of Michael Flynn between November 8, 2016 and January 12, 2017, noted Fleitz in a Saturday-published column. Flynn was then-President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming national security adviser.

Among the 39 Obama officials who submitted unmasking requests for Flynn’s identity are former Vice President Joe Biden, former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former FBI Director James Comey, former U.N., former Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, and former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power.

Grenell’s list identified 53 requests made by Obama administration officials to reveal Flynn’s identity on intelligence reports.

Unmasking requests themselves are not classified, explained Fleitz, who worked for 25 years in various national security positions at the CIA, DIA, the Department of State, and the House Intelligence Committee staff.

“I don’t know why these names weren’t public in the first place, but the fact that someone made one of these requests is not classified, and I think that should have been released straight away,” said Fleitz on Thursday’s edition of SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Daily with host Alex Marlow.

Fleitz added, “I don’t know why this is so hard to get out, and I think that the [Trump] administration has to just release all of the names of requesters who asked for Trump campaign officials after the election. In terms of transparency and reassuring the American public that intelligence isn’t being abused, that has to be revealed.”

Fleitz called for greater congressional oversight of the intelligence agencies.

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Democrats and the broader left are misrepresenting the regularity of unmasking, explained Fleitz, noting that the identities of U.S. persons captured via intelligence agency surveillance operations are concealed on corresponding intelligence reports via redaction.

“If you listen to the Democrats and to defenders of the Obama administration, obtaining the name that had been redacted from an NSA report is routine [and] done all the time,” Fleitz said.

MSNBC’s Brian Williams invited former CIA Director John Brennan, now an MSNBC “analyst,” to describe the Obama administration’s unmasking of American citizens’ identities as unworthy of public attention:

 

Fleitz described unmaskings as a rare event during his tenure at the CIA. “I was a CIA officer for 19 years,” he stated. “For the first 16, I didn’t even know you could do this. This was such a sensitive thing. When an intelligence agency — the CIA or NSA or another agency — collects foreign intelligence, they’re not allowed to collect against Americans unless it’s a very special circumstance. If an American is swept up in an intelligence report, it’s blacked out.”

“[Such redactions] are called ‘minimized,’ and to deminimize it, or to unmask [the U.S. person’s identify], a special request has been made to the national security agency [that] collected it. The person who makes the request has to be fairly senior and has to put the request in writing.”

Fleitz added, “[Unmasking] is treated very seriously. It’s not that easy to do it. It is not routine. By contrast, when I was at [the State Department] from 2001 to 2005, Deputy Secretary [Richard] Armitage made 100 requests the whole time he was there. We know that U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power made 260 requests, and I think they were all in  2016, and a lot of them were in late 2016.”

“I worked for Ambassador [John] Bolton for four years,” Fleitz recalled. “He made ten requests. There were so many requests at the end of [the Obama] administration.”

Fleitz emphasized that the 53 above-mentioned unmasking requests only pertained to Flynn. 

“[Richard] Grenell or someone else needs to give us information on how many other requests were made [by Obama administration officials] about other Trump campaign officials, and I think there’s going to be quite a few of them,” concluded Fleitz.

National Security Agency (NSA) officers and officials should have denied Obama officials’ requests to reveal the identities of Flynn and other U.S. persons, Fleitz stated.

Fleitz remarked, “It was up to officers of NSA and NSA officials to say no to these requests, to say, ‘Look, you are asking for the names of someone in the incoming administration. That constitutes spying, one administration spying on an incoming administration.”

“NSA should not have been part of that,” Fleitz added, speculating on partisan and political corruption of intelligence agencies. “Where were the IG complaints that intelligence was being weaponized against an incoming administration? Why are IG complaints always lodged against Republicans or Republican administrations?”

Fleitz concluded, “This was an opportunity for people who stand for ethical government to report what was going on to their [inspector general] and to the intelligence oversight committees, but there were no complaints lodged.”

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