“Unmaskings” may be common– and that’s the problem

The following is an excerpt from my latest article in The Hill.

There has been one common response to recent news that so many Obama administration figures “unmasked” then-Trump national security adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn: “There’s nothing wrong with unmaskings. They’re common and routine.”

That’s a bit like saying, “There’s nothing wrong with taking money. It happens all the time.” The reality is that “taking money” in payment for services or goods is entirely different than “taking money” by stealing it from somebody else. The propriety of the action depends on the context.

To understand how sensitive unmaskings are, here’s a simplified explanation.

First, intel officials initially were barred under our Constitution and laws from capturing communications of innocent Americans during surveillance of foreign officials and terrorists.

Then they said, “Well, we sometimes need to capture those innocent U.S. citizens ‘incidentally’ when they communicate with a target, but we won’t store their information. We’ll protect their American rights.”

Then they said, “Well, we will store the info of the innocent U.S. citizens for just a little while. But we will carefully control access and we will ‘mask’ or hide the identities of the innocent U.S. citizens, even among intelligence officials, so they are not abused for political or nefarious purposes.”

Then they said, “Well, we need to store the names and info of the innocent U.S. citizens longer than we first said. And it will go into a database. But don’t worry, in the rare instance that their names are ‘unmasked,’ it will be a careful, controlled process that only a few can do.”

They added, “Nobody will be able to ‘unmask’ a name simply because they are curious or suspicious; there will have to be extremely important and well-documented reasons directly related to national security. This will be extremely rare.”

But somehow, we’ve ended up with: “What’s wrong with unmaskings? There are thousands and thousands of them every year.” Defenders of the unmaskings — including some of those who requested them — put out the word, and many in the media dutifully have parrotted the narrative without considering the context. (Continued…)

Read the rest of the article by clicking the link below:


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2 thoughts on ““Unmaskings” may be common– and that’s the problem”

  1. Nuke Road Warrior

    The whole concept of “unmasking” scares the H**l out of me. By definition, “unmasking” is an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment. Established case law, has clearly determined that in order to wiretap an American citizen a warrant demonstrating probable cause is required. For “unmasking” to become “routine” and for government officials to dismiss this illegal activity is appalling. If an American citizen is inadvertently recorded during a wiretap of a foreign citizen, nothing revealed in that surveillance can be used in a criminal prosecution, nor can the contents be revealed to any other government agency. The perpetrators of these abuses should be prosecuted not just civilly but criminally.

  2. It seems obvious that once we passed the Liberty Act in response to the 911 attacks we were giving up certain protections under the law for some degree of added safety. Yes?? No??
    In the case of unmasking the US citizen speaking to a person from a foreign power that is an enemy of the US it can make sense. Or, is the unmasking dependent on their conversation or some other parameter? Someone please enlighten me.

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