House Subpoenas Elevate Probe into Improper Intelligence Surveillance


UN Ambassador Samantha Power sought names of Americans hidden in communications intercept

House probe

June 2, 2017 5:00 pm

A House investigation into improper intelligence gathering gained momentum this week after subpoenas were issued for records on three Obama administration political appointees.

U.S. officials said the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence this week ordered the National Security Agency, FBI, and CIA to produce records on all requests made by the three senior officials for the names of Americans redacted in electronic intercepts of conversations of foreign officials, said U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

The newest target of the investigation that began in March is former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, a long-time Obama confidant.

The other two being probed as part of the committee’s investigation into potentially improper political spying are former CIA Director John Brennan and former White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

Power declined to comment through a spokesman. Rice and Brennan did not return emails seeking comment.

The subpoenas were issued Wednesday by Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), who in April revealed that “dozens” of classified intelligence reports appeared to have improperly unmasked the names of Americans inadvertently spied on during foreign intelligence surveillance operations.

Nunes was sidelined from the committee’s Russia inquiry after a leftist media monitoring group alleged he disclosed classified information. The House Ethics Committee has launched an inquiry into the allegation. However, the ethics panel so far has ignored similar allegations lodged against the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), who appears to have disclosed classified information in public discussion of former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s intercepted conversation with the Russian ambassador.

The committee wants the three agencies to disclose the details about the three former officials’ requests of the agencies to provide the hidden identities of the Americans who were caught in electronic surveillance.

The investigation into unmasking activities of Americans was initially part of the intelligence oversight panel’s investigation of Russian political influence operations during the 2016 election.

In addition to the subpoenas for unmasking request records, the committee also issued four related to the Russia aspect of the probe. They include notices to former White House National Security Adviser Flynn and Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal lawyer.

The issuing of subpoenas related to the disclosure of Americans’ identities are a sign that the probe into the potential political spying by the Obama administration has been elevated.

The NSA, FBI, and CIA have provided some cooperation to the committee but so far have not provided details sought by investigators. The subpoenas are meant to compel the three agencies’ cooperation on the matter.

Procedures for electronic intercepts that incidentally spy on Americans require blacking out the names of the Americans in a bid to protect privacy rights.

In cases usually limited to those involving terrorists or foreign intelligence operatives communicating with Americans, senior government officials can request that hidden names contained in raw transcripts be revealed in order to better understand the context of conversations. The unmasking is restricted to officials with a need to know and the dissemination of the revealed names is supposed to be limited within intelligence and government agencies.

House investigators believe the Obama administration sought to exploit the intelligence reports by first obtaining the masked names and then widely disseminating the reports in a bid to make identifying any leaks to the press more difficult.

“It’s clear that people on the Hill have found indications that high-level officials of the Obama administration weaponized American intelligence,” said a senior U.S. official.

The officials said the probe into possible political intelligence gathering by the Obama administration is now a separate inquiry from the Russia probe that has been dominating major news outlets’ coverage over the past several weeks.

By contrast, the improper unmasking activities have been largely ignored by most news media that have instead focused extensive coverage on the Russian collusion allegations.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is also investigating the matter but its inquiry appears to be limited to the Russia allegations. Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by President Trump in part for continuing the Russian counterintelligence investigation, is set to testify before the Senate panel Thursday.

Trump, who has called the collusion allegations “fake news,” joined the fray on Thursday, tweeting, “The big story is the ‘unmasking and surveillance’ of people that took place during the Obama Administration.”

Indications of a political spying operation against Trump and his associates first surfaced in March when intelligence officials told the New York Times that during the last days of the Obama administration, White House officials had “scrambled to spread information” about Russian hacking and collusion with Trump campaign officials.

The March 1 report said American intelligence agencies had eavesdropped on communications of Russian officials, including some inside the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump aides.

House investigators’ concerns also were raised by earlier press disclosures revealing the contents of an intercepted phone call between Flynn and Moscow’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, discussing U.S. sanctions on Russia. Flynn later resigned as White House national security adviser as a result of the disclosures.

Power, the former UN ambassador targeted by the unmasking investigation, worked as an aide to Obama in the Senate and then on the White House National Security Council staff from 2009 to 2013. She became U.N. ambassador in 2013 and was a key figure in advocating U.S. military intervention in Libya.

The United Nations is a major U.S. intelligence target for the NSA, FBI, and CIA and investigators believe it is unusual for Power to have asked for the identities of Americans in late 2016 and early 2017.

Rice, the former White House adviser, earlier this month told CNN she would not testify before a Senate subcommittee investigating the Russia.

Rice called allegations she misused intelligence “absolutely false.”

“I did my job which was to protect the American people and I did it faithfully and to the best of my ability,” she said. “And never did I do anything that was untoward with respect to the intelligence I received.”

On May 23, Brennan revealed in House testimony that he had made unmasking requests during his tenure, but did not ask for the names of Americans in classified intelligence reports on Jan. 20, the day he left CIA.

“No, I was not in the agency on the last day I was employed,” Brennan said. “I definitely know that on the last day I was employed I definitely did not make such a request.”

Brennan, a career CIA analyst who also worked closely with Obama in the White House before moving to CIA, disclosed during his testimony that he requested that the FBI investigate Trump associates during the 2016 presidential campaign after intelligence reports indicated ties between campaign aides and Russians.

Critics have charged Brennan with politicizing the CIA during his tenure as director, limiting the agency’s espionage capabilities.

Brennan said he asked the FBI to investigate because he was worried by intelligence reports of contacts between Russians and Americans he did not identify in the May 23 testimony. “And so therefore I felt as though the FBI investigation was certainly well-founded and needed to look into those issues,” he said.

On March 20 during testimony before the House intelligence panel, then-FBI Director Comey and NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers both testified they had no information supporting claims by Trump that the Obama administration had conducted political surveillance of him and his aides.

Days later, Nunes said he has been shown dozens of classified intelligence reports that appeared to contradict the two officials’ testimony.

“What I’ve read seems to be some level of surveillance activity, perhaps legal, but I don’t know that it’s right and I don’t know if the American people would be comfortable with what I’ve read,” Nunes said.

The intelligence reports included transcripts of communications, including communications directly from Trump based on a foreign electronic spying operation between November and January—the period when the transition team was operating, mainly from Trump’s New York residence, Trump Tower.

Nunes has said the apparent political spying activities were based on intercepts of a foreign target and were not related to the Russia inquiry.

Vladimir Putin fights election-tampering accusations with his own shots at US

Russian President Vladimir Putin turned the tables on claims the Kremlin meddled in the U.S. presidential election, with a feisty Putin on Friday accusing American spies of “crude and systematic” widespread interference in Russian affairs.

Putin, speaking at an economic forum in St. Petersburg moderated by NBC’s Megyn Kelly, said the probe into Russia’s alleged attempts to influence the election via collusion with President Trump’s campaign team was merely “hysteria,” Reuters reported. He even tried to calm an inquisitive Kelly by asking: “Isn’t there a pill they can give you?”

He also compared the anti-Russian sentiment in the U.S. to anti-Semitism.

“It’s like saying everything is the Jews’ fault,” said Putin, who placed the blame for Hillary Clinton’s November loss squarely at the feet of the Democratic presidential candidate and members of her party.

Putin deftly brushed off questions about meetings that members of the Trump campaign – including then-Sen. Jeff Sessions – had with Russian diplomat Sergey Kislyak.


“So our ambassador met someone. That’s his job. That’s why we pay him,” Putin said, according to a translation. “So what? What’s he supposed to do, hit up the bars?”

He described the focus on Kislyak’s contacts as “catastrophic nonsense.”

Earlier this week, Putin denied the Russian state had directed any hacking operations designed to influence the U.S. election – though he did say Russian “patriots” could have been behind the plot on their own accord. Friday, Putin went a step further, saying the U.S. claims contained “nothing concrete, only assumptions.” He added that IP addresses allegedly belonging to Russian hackers easily could have been rigged and couldn’t stand as evidence.

“A 3-year-old can perpetrate such an attack,” Putin said.


Also, while many world leaders have condemned Trump’s decision on Thursday to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Putin said he “wouldn’t blame Trump” for leaving the accord, though he hoped the Oval Office occupant would set new climate change rules.

Joking about the effects of climate change, Putin said “American imperialism” was the reason for Russia’s summer weather.

The former KGB officer also took aim at a favorite Russian target, NATO, asking why the alliance needed such robust defense spending.

“What part of their body are they thinking with?” he asked rhetorically.

Though Putin also said he hoped U.S. sanctions eventually would be lifted against his country, he bragged that the penalties had an unintended positive effect.

“We had to use our brains,” Putin said. “Not rely on oil and gas dollars.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

As Trump pulls U.S. out of Paris Climate Accords, ominous changes in Arctic, Antarctic are observed

The Secular Jurist

By Robert A. Vella

As expected, President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accords yesterday.  Also expected, an increasingly concerned world reacted with anger, dismay, and rhetorical self-interest.  See:

Protests, new climate pledges after Trump’s Paris pullout

Trump Climate Decision Endangers Human Health, Doctors Say

Macron skewers Trump in the first-ever English address by a French president from the Élysée

Arnold Schwarzenegger Torches Trump Over Paris Accord Pullout: ‘The People Will Rise Up’ (Video)

Putin avoids criticizing Trump climate decision

At the same time, ominous climatic changes have been observed in Earth’s polar regions which support a new growing consensus that global warming is accelerating much faster than most scientists had expected.

From Hundreds of Huge Craters Discovered in the Arctic Ocean:

Methane can form deep underground, where heat and pressure transform ancient organic material into methane gas. Fifteen thousand years ago during the Ice Age…

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