Flynn Unmasking Not What People Think
Flynn Unmasking Not What People Think
The unmasking of Michael Flynn in numerous reports of his telephone calls with then-Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak has been the subject of much (uninformed) analysis of late after acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grennell released a list of government officials who asked for Flynn’s name to be “unmasked.”
I have seen numerous unhinged screeching that every one of the government officials listed was somehow a criminal who should be prosecuted, but these are issues involving the bureaucracy of requesting identities of US persons in intelligence reports that many people just don’t understand.
Let’s start with the facts.
Former CIA deputy director Michael Morell describes the procedure for “unmasking” in this article. It absolutely comports with what I know to be the correct procedure from my former life.
US persons are sometimes caught up in incidental collection of legitimate targets. In this case, the target was the Russian Ambassador, and it’s perfectly normal for our intelligence agencies to target him.
Most of the time, no one cares about the US person with whom the target is talking, and identities are never requested. But there are times, when requesting the identity of the interlocutor is perfectly appropriate – say when said interlocutor is revealing some sensitive information to the Ambassador, such as, say… when sanctions are about to be imposed on some Russians for doing a thing.
In the case of Flynn’s unmasking, the incoming administration would have been pre-briefed about upcoming sanctions before they were imposed on 29 December 2016 – probably a day or two before, when then-President Barack Obama signed the Executive Order.
But back to the unmasking.
As Morell points out, it would be irresponsible not to get further context into a sensitive conversation such as this, and rules allow for certain recipients with a need to know to reveal the identity of the US person interlocutor.
But the rules are clear that the intelligence community can unmask the name only if the requester needs to know it to do their job. If approved, the true name only goes to that requester.
The process of unmasking has been routine under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Indeed, last year, there were about 7,700 requests made, with most – but not all – approved. I don’t know of a single case when this process has been abused. Only a specially trained group is authorized to do the unmaskings, and their work is closely monitored and audited.
Morell is correct here. An online classified form needs to get filled out, and the justification for unmasking needs to be robust. It’s not like you can just say, “I want to know because I’m curious.” That’s not how it works.
And it’s not like Morell takes kindly to leakers. A few years ago, he resigned as senior fellow at Harvard University, because the school wanted to allow that sniveling, oozing, traitorous ass wart Chelsea Manning to become a visiting fellow.
“The Kennedy School’s decision will assist Ms. Manning in her long-standing effort to legitimize the criminal path that she took to prominence, an attempt that may encourage others to leak classified information as well,” Morell wrote. “I have an obligation to my conscience — and I believe to the country — to stand up against any efforts to justify leaks of sensitive national security information.”
In this case, the fact that a list of Obama Administration officials requested the identity of Kislyak’s interlocutor both before and after the sanctions were imposed on 29 December, is nothing shocking. It happens all the time.
Biden claimed he did not know much about the investigation into Flynn, but the list shows he or his briefer requested the identity in one of those reports on 12 January. Now, given Biden’s obvious mental deficiencies, it’s entirely possible that he doesn’t remember. But this sure gives the GOP ammunition to target Biden’s honesty, and for those who are desperate to slap him around, to claim that he did something illegal by requesting the identity of Michael Flynn.
But people who don’t understand the process immediately jumped to some uninformed conclusions. Andrew McCarthy, writing for National Review Online, claims it is somehow suspicious that “Grenell’s list notes an unmasking request for Flynn on December 28, 2016 — weirdly, by the U.S. ambassador to Turkey. There are no unmasking requests on December 29, the date of the Kislyak call. Nor is there one during the week after that.”
This highlights how central that day is to the anatomy of the Democrat-crafted “collusion” narrative. It was on the morning of January 5 when Obama, Vice President Biden, and National Security Advisor Susan Rice discussed Flynn and the Trump–Russia investigation with FBI director James Comey and acting attorney general Sally Yates.
Yet we know that participants in that meeting already knew about Flynn’s identity as Kislyak’s interlocutor. The exhibits attached to the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss the Flynn case relate that Comey’s deputy, Andrew McCabe, knew about it no later than January 3, the day he briefed Mary McCord, who ran the Justice Department’s National Security Division. Plus, Yates recalled being surprised that Obama already knew about the Flynn–Kislyak call (and, in fact, is the one who told Yates about it). Clearly, the news had been percolating at the highest levels of the Obama administration for at least a couple of days, although it may not yet have made its way down to Joe Pientka, the FBI case agent on Trump–Russia, who on January 4 signed off on a memo closing the FBI’s Flynn counterintelligence investigation (“Crossfire Razor”).
What the NRO article is missing is the fact that the 12/29 call was not the only one Flynn had with the Russian Ambassador. There were others, as shown by the unmasking requests on previous dates, and my guess is that they had something to do with energy and Nord Stream 2, which would have prompted the US Ambassador to Turkey and Energy Department officials to request the identity of Kislyak’s interlocutor. But that’s only my guess.
The list does not specify what the subject of the report was which prompted the unmasking request, and it only lists the date of the request, not the date it was received by the government official, which in some cases would have taken several days.
NRO claims that Flynn was not unmasked in connection with the 29 December call in which he advised Kislyak of the best course of action in response to the sanctions imposed on Russia.
That’s not true. The list doesn’t show a 29 December request because that’s when the call took place. It would have taken a few days – even if it was high priority – to process that call, to translate it, to get it through the review chain and issue the report. Then it would have taken another day at least to release that report. Now, it was the holiday season, and I seem to remember that the government was closed on Monday 1/2, so it is possible the report was released on 1/3 or even 1/4, it’s quite possible that White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough picked it up the report that day and had his briefer file a request to unmask the interlocutor the next day.
It is also quite possible that senior members of the administration already had a suspicion about who the interlocutor was. After all, as you can see on that list, numerous requests for identification showed Flynn speaking to Kislyak were made prior to that call. But they would need confirmation. You cannot make assumptions when the issues are that critical.
But as Morell points out, if they already knew, why in the world would they have to request identification to begin with? The whole point of asking for identification is to reveal a name that an official needs to know to do his or her job. Could they have suspected, based on other conversations? Sure. But that’s not a crime, and it’s neither here nor there.
But Flynn was out of the country on vacation, claims NRO! And that proves that the collection was on him!
Ummmm… that makes no sense whatsoever.
The intercept was on Kislyak and his conversations. It doesn’t matter where his interlocutor is. If he’s talking to someone, that call will most likely be intercepted. Flynn being out of the country that day has nothing to do with anything. If he spoke with Kislyak from his cabana in the Dominican Republic, the call would have been intercepted on the Russian official’s end.
But where was Kislyak during the holiday week between Christmas and New Year’s? Why aren’t there media reports with his whereabouts? Chances are he skipped town, claims McCarthy.
First of all, the media doesn’t follow the schedule of foreign ambassadors to the United States. So I cannot imagine that seemed pertinent. I would also think that if Kislyak’s cell phone was tapped, it wouldn’t matter where he was – in DC or otherwise. And in addition, given the transition, given the complex situation of sanctions being released, and accusations of Russian interference in the election, it is quite possible that Kislyak remained as the representative of Russian leaders in the United States.
The whole point of this is this: there is nothing irregular or illegal about requesting identification for a US person who is having a conversation with a foreign official. It’s done all the time. Hell, in 2018 alone, the NSA revealed the identities of almost 17,000 U.S. persons, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. And it could have been done for various reasons. There is an audit trail for every one of those requests, and they’re pretty common.
What is irregular and illegal is that someone leaked Flynn’s name as being the US person talking to the Russian ambassador to the media. This information is classified. I’m nearly 100 percent certain that whoever leaked this information didn’t get official permission to declassify the name. If someone did, there damn well would be an audit trail as well!
The government needs to find the person who leaked this information and throw the book at them.
No matter what you may think of Flynn as a person – and I’ll keep my thoughts to myself, since I’ve had some exposure to the guy – there is no way it is acceptable to leak his name from classified reports to the press.
This is where government officials should be looking. This is where they need to do their legwork and find the person who disclosed classified national security information to the press.
And this is where this jackass needs his or her spinal cord severed for causing so much trouble and disclosing the name of a person whose identity should have remained classified. Flynn had not been convicted of any crime at the time, and revealing his identity for political reasons is unconscionable!
Much like I refused to support the identification of the whistleblower when the impeachment drama was unfolding, I despise the fact that Flynn’s name was revealed in the media, impugning him before he was convicted in a court of law.
Rope. Tree. Leaker. Some assembly may be required.
Featured photo courtesy of Donkey Hotey on Flickr;