Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has “formally requested” more information from the White House and the intelligence community on
whether he was “surveilled” by the Obama administration during the presidential election, he said Friday.
“Did the Obama admin go after presidential candidates, members of Congress, journalists, clergy, lawyers, fed judges?” Paul tweeted. “Did the Obama admin use warrantless “wiretapping” on other candidates besides @realdonaldtrump?
President Trump tweeted an unfounded claim in early March that President Barack Obama Obama had ordered Trump Tower phones to be “wiretapped” during the election.
Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Community, said later that, upon reviewing classified intelligence reports from the previous administration, he had seen no evidence that Trump was ever illegally surveilled. FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers corroborated that assessment in a March hearing before the committee.
In both tweets, Paul linked to an article by the publication Circa that said Americans overseas had had their information collected, “searched,” and “disseminated” by the National Security Agency “after President Obama loosened privacy protections” in 2011. The article cited the Statistical Transparency Report published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence earlier this week.
Paul sent a letter to President Donald Trump on April 10 asking him to investigate a claim made to him by an “anonymous source” that his name was “unmasked” in intelligence reports collected under the Obama administration. He cited “revelations” that people associated with the Trump campaign had had their names unmasked as warranting an investigation into “allegations that myself and other elected members of the legislative branch may have also been unmasked.”
Paul’s letter came roughly a week after reports surfaced that Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, tried to learn the identities of officials on Trump’s transition team whose conversations with foreign officials were incidentally collected during routine intelligence-gathering operations.
The intelligence reports obtained by Rice, who served from 2013 to 2017, “were summaries of monitored conversations — primarily between foreign officials discussing the Trump transition, but also in some cases direct contact between members of the Trump team and monitored foreign officials,” Bloomberg’s Eli Lake reported at the time.
“I ask that your administration promptly investigate whether my name or the names of other Members of Congress, or individuals from our staffs or campaigns, were included in queries or searches of databases of the intelligence community, or if their identities were unmasked in any intelligence reports or products,” Paul wrote in April.
Unless Paul or his staffers were communicating with monitored foreign agents, it is unlikely their names would be unmasked by high-level Obama administration officials such as Rice, who received these intelligence reports daily.
Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authorizes the US intelligence community to surveil non-US persons “reasonably believed to be located outside the United States” in order to “acquire foreign intelligence information.” US persons caught up in those monitored communications must have their identities “minimized,” and then the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court must “review the sufficiency” of the intelligence community’s minimization procedures.
The restrictions on how intelligence agencies handle “non-publicly available US person information acquired from Section 702 collection of non-US person targets” must be “consistent with the needs of the government to obtain, produce, and disseminate foreign intelligence information.”
“The identities of US persons may be released under two circumstances: 1) the identity is needed to make sense of the intercept; 2) if a crime is involved in the conversation,” said Robert Deitz, a former senior counselor to the CIA director and former general counsel at the National Security Agency.
“Any senior official who receives the underlying intelligence may request these identities,” Deitz said, noting that while “the bar for obtaining the identity is not particularly high, it must come from a senior official, and the reason cannot simply be raw curiosity.”
Steve Slick, a former CIA operations officer and NSC official who now heads the Intelligence Studies Project at the University of Texas at Austin, said that “by definition, any report that the NSA elects to disseminate is relevant to a foreign or national-security issue.”
But it is “often not possible for a consumer or reader to fully understand the significance of a report without knowing precisely which US person may have been communicating with the foreign official,” he added.
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