Did Susan Rice Turn the Intelligence Apparatus Into a Political Weapon?

Former national security adviser Susan Rice may have inappropriately spied on President Trump and his transition team according to explosive new reports. If true, it suggests that Rice may have been more concerned with securing a Clinton victory that protecting our nation from external threats.

The issue began with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes claim that he received dozens of intelligence reports suggesting that President Trump and his transition team were incidentally surveilled, and their identities improperly unmasked, by the Obama Administration. 

“First, I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions, the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition,” Rep. Nunes said in remarks to reporters. “Second, details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration, details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value, were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting. Third, I have confirmed that additional names of Trump transition team members were unmasked. Fourth and finally, I want to be clear, none of this surveillance was related to Russia or the investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team.”

The surveillance was apparently permitted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But in typical FISA collections, any incidental information incidentally gathered on U.S. citizens is protected. Only a handful of NSA officials are authorized to unmask U.S. citizens, and even they are often denied. That makes the unmasking of President Trump and his associates highly suspect, especially given the intensely sensitive political season in which the surveillance occurred.

At the time, Susan Rice claimed ignorance of Rep. Nunes allegations.

“I know nothing about this,” Rice said in an interview with PBS. “I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that count today . . . I really don’t know to what Chairman Nunes was referring, but he said whatever he was referring to was legal, lawful surveillance, and that it was potentially incidental collection on American citizens.”

But earlier this week Bloomberg’s Eli Lake reported that Rice may have known a lot more than she was letting on:

White House lawyers last month learned that the former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

The pattern of Rice’s requests was discovered in a National Security Council review of the government’s policy on “unmasking” the identities of individuals in the U.S. who are not targets of electronic eavesdropping, but whose communications are collected incidentally. Normally those names are redacted from summaries of monitored conversations and appear in reports as something like “U.S. Person One.”

In February Cohen-Watnick discovered Rice’s multiple requests to unmask U.S. persons in intelligence reports that related to Trump transition activities. He brought this to the attention of the White House General Counsel’s office, who reviewed more of Rice’s requests and instructed him to end his own research into the unmasking policy.

Rice immediately began backpedaling her earlier remarks. Rather than hide behind an ignorance defense, she attempted to portray the unmasking as business as usual.

“I received those reports, as did each of those other officials, and there were occasions when I would receive a report in which a U.S. person was referred to,” Rice said on MSNBC with Andrea Mitchell. “Name not provided, just a U.S. person. And sometimes in that context, in order to understand the importance of the report, and assess its significance, it was necessary to find out, or request the information, as to who the U.S. official was.”

But Lake is reporting differently.

“One U.S. official familiar with the reports said they contained valuable political information on the Trump transition such as whom the Trump team was meeting, the views of Trump associates on foreign policy matters and plans for the coming administration,” writes Lake.

Even John Schindler, a former National Security Agency analyst and current Trump critic, wonders whether Rice could have been up to no good.

“Although it’s all but impossible to prove, if Rice asked for those identities for political—not national security—reasons, there’s a problem,” Schindler writes. “Then there’s the possibility that she may not have adhered to NSA’s rigid rules about protecting the identities of those unmasked USPs. If she informed White House staffers without a need to know who those Americans were, the FBI may have something to investigate.”

He goes on to note that “Rice didn’t like to play by the rules, including the top-secret ones,” and often “asked the NSA to do things they regarded as unethical.”

None of that is necessarily a smoking gun. But damaging leaks about President Trump, Rice’s waffling on whether she unmasked Trump associates during surveillance activities, and her record of rule breaking, is a fact pattern that requires more investigation. With stakes this enormous it’s time for the FBI to once again step up and do its job.

Photo Credit: David Seaton. See more of his work HERE.