Was Trump Right? NSA Sought to ‘Unmask’ 1,934 Americans in Intelligence Reports
Government officials requested to know the identities of more than 1,900 Americans whose information was swept up in National Security Agency surveillance programs last year, according to an intelligence report issued Tuesday.
The identities of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents were found in 3,914 intelligence reports the NSA distributed last year, the report said. The annual report comes just weeks after President Donald Trump accused former President Barack Obama’s national security adviser of possibly committing a crime when she asked government analysts to disclose the names of Trump associates documented in intelligence reports.
Most names in such intelligence reports are masked to protect privacy, but last year government officials requested that 1,934 identities — not initially revealed in the NSA reports — be unmasked in order to understand the intelligence being conveyed. In 2015, government officials requested the unmasking of 2,232 identities.
Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, has said neither she nor other Obama officials used secret intelligence reports to spy on Trump associates for political purposes. Rice’s official role would have given her the ability to request that names be revealed for national security purposes.
In interviews, Rice acknowledged that she sometimes asked for the names of Americans referenced in reports. She would not say whether she saw intelligence related to Trump associates or whether she asked for their identities, though she did say that reports related to Russia increased in the final months of the presidential election campaign.
Lawmakers have repeatedly asked U.S. intelligence agencies to tell them how many Americans’ emails and calls are vacuumed up by warrantless government surveillance programs created to collect information on foreign intelligence targets.
“This report provides a small window into the government’s surveillance activities, but it leaves vital questions unanswered,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in a statement. “At the top of the list is how many Americans’ communications are being swept up.”
After former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents revealing extensive government surveillance, Congress passed a law that ended bulk collection. But communications companies can collect the data and the NSA still can access it for national security purposes.
The report showed that even under the new law, the NSA still collected more than 151 million records about Americans’ phone calls last year.