Flynn Unmasking Not What People Think

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.

So what?

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;

Written by

Marta Hernandez is an immigrant, writer, editor, science fiction fan (especially military sci-fi), and a lover of freedom, her children, her husband and her pets. She loves to shoot, and range time is sacred, as is her hiking obsession, especially if we’re talking the European Alps. She is an avid caffeine and TWD addict, and wants to own otters, sloths, wallabies, koalas, and wombats when she grows up.

10 Comments
  • Gus Kase says:

    You lose all credibility when you say you did not support the identification of the “whistleblower” because that was not a whistleblower.

  • Matthew W says:

    I don’t agree with most of your article, but I do agree MAYBE the unmasking request was on 01/03 or 01/04 because that would just be a coincidence that’s when Strzok told the Washington field office NOT to close the case on Flynn.

    “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.”
    McDonough qualifies???

  • John Quarter says:

    I agree with Mathews comment. And after reading the Article on Samantha Powers, UN ambassador unmasking hundreds of people, I can only surmise that only a gov’t bureaucrat would write this article. Saying unmasking is done ‘all the time by everyone’ doesn’t make it right. The reason people are masked is because you are not supposed to be spying on AMERICANS. If any person on a whim unmasks then wtf do you mask them ?
    You are wrong if you think ONLY the leak is a crime, or as I already stated you are one of the bureaucrats in Gov’t who thinks you have a right to spy on americans. Biden flipped out in2005? iirc, that John Bolton unmasked about a half dozen time as UN ambassador. Today his Dem counterpart was unmasking in hundreds and hundreds of people. And she could NOT explain in her testimony to Gowdy WHY SHE NEEDED TO KNOW. That’s a freaking problem …. sport.

    I will have to try to forget Marta Hernandez, and her smarmy comments about citizens ‘unhinged screechings’.
    But to me I have to think the swamp stretches quite far.

    • Matthew W says:

      I’m less concerned with the fact that the UN Ambassador was making requests and more with the fact that she testified that she did not make all of the requests. WHo did then?? Why has there never been an investigation as to who would have been abusing the unmasking process?

      ” I don’t know of a single case when this process has been abused.”

      DUH !!!
      No one is looking very hard !

  • Bruce P says:

    Marta’s bias apparently doesn’t allow her to think through the possibilities. She is wrong on several fronts. And, she let’s her bias and her lack of journalistic integrity show through with the “unhinged screechings” comment. It’s a way to try to shut down the conversation. She’s totally lost all credibility with me.

    “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.”

    So, you somehow believe that the NRO is lying? Dan Bongino has outlined the whole thing in his Friday, 5/15, show. Total frame up job right from POTUS in addition to the felony leaking and the illegality of prosecutors claiming under oath that discovery in the trail was complete (it wasn’t by a long shot).

    Summary of the Bongino show: The 12/29 call was key to the whole case against Flynn and it was a set-up. The other unmaskings are not germane to the case and are a distraction. Obama announced the expulsion of Russians to the world specifically to get Kislyak to call Flynn in the Dominican Republic (note the date of that announcement separate from the sanctions). The only call to the DR that day by Kislyak was obviously to Flynn. No unmasking needed. No paper trail. The other unmaskings were trying to catch Flynn doing something nefarious and all failed. The 12/29 call was a frame up to try to get Flynn to discuss sanctions and get him on the Logan Act. Flynn never discussed sanctions with Kislyak. The actual transcript has never been produced. Flynn is totally innocent and was framed. He plead out to stop the financial bleeding (knowing the FBI was never going to release the exculpatory proof), he knew he had a biased judge, to get sentencing points for pleading to reduce his sentence to the minimum, and because the FBI threatened to prosecute his son on trumped up charges and ruin him too (the process is the punishment even for the innocent).

    Now we just need to impeach an activist judge who has gone into an alternate universe, and convict the leaker and the lead prosecutor.

  • Marta, if you want to convince us that Lt. Gen. Flynn is a “bad man” – you are going to have to give some examples. Examples of corrupt actions, or incompetent actions (other than being foolish enough to believe Comey), or other criminality.

    Abrasive, he is. Highly opinionated, he is. Intolerant of people getting in the way of his doing what he sees as his job, he is. A serious threat to the Obama / Comey / Brennan plans for sedition, he was.

    Just saying “I didn’t like him when I worked with him.” DOES NOT CUT IT. I’ve worked with several people that seriously irked me personally – but they were not “bad people.”

  • GWB says:

    Obama Administration officials
    It happens all the time.
    But, let’s distinguish between “officials”. Does it happen all the time with a VP? With Ambassador to the UN? With people involved in election efforts?

    There were others, as shown by the unmasking requests on previous dates
    Why would those necessarily be convos with the Russian ambassador? Is that logic, or known via some other data?

    And that proves that the collection was on him!
    That’s not actually what he’s saying there. He’s just pointing out it might have fallen into other categories of surveillance. You seem overly fixated on something that McCarthy is speculating about.

    in 2018 alone, the NSA revealed the identities of almost 17,000 U.S. persons
    Some of us find that particularly disturbing.

    I thought McCarthy’s article was a bit odd. But honestly, it didn’t strike me as dishonest (or stupid). He was speculating that the real problem might have been there was no unmasking needed for the one phone call, as it might have been intercepted by outside agencies (since Flynn was out of the country). I think he might be trying too hard.

    As to your dislike of Flynn, I’ve heard that from a lot of folks who had worked with him. It’s not an uncommon feeling.

    • matthew W says:

      There’s good evidence that there was not an unmasking or unmasking needed. BUT !!!!!!!!! In a comment that Trump made the other day, he said “unmasked.” I don’t think he has the every detail of any investigation, but I would think he would know this detail. Curious.

    • GWB says:

      Oh, and let me clarify: I think you make a few valid points contra McCarthy’s article.

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