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NSA Director: Decision to Unmask ‘Really Important’ People Can Depend on Whether He’s ‘Comfortable’

Craig Bannister
By Craig Bannister | March 20, 2017 | 1:34 PM EDT

NSA Dir. Mike Rogers

If the person mentioned in an investigation is really important, officials will check with him to make sure he’s “comfortable” before making that person’s name public, National Security Agency (NSA) Director Mike Rogers testified in a House hearing Monday.

At a hearing on Russian influence on U.S. elections, Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Florida) asked Rogers about the “unmasking” of people whose identities were being protected and the leak of information that led to the resignation of former NSA Director Mike Flynn.

Asked if the level of approval required to unmask a person depends on whether that person is “really important” and if stature matters in the decision to unmask, Rogers said those with the authority to unmask often check with him to make sure he’s “comfortable” with the outing of a high-profile individual:

Rep. Rooney: “Let’s get back to masking briefly. You spoke about masking and trying to keep a U.S. person’s identity concealed. And, when it is disseminated, we often talk about in the intelligence community about the exceptions to if, if somebody’s masked, how you unmask them. What would the exceptions to that masking be before it’s disseminated?”

Rogers: “So, again, we use two criteria: the need to know on the person requesting us in the execution of their official duties and the second part was, is the identification necessary to truly understand the context of the intelligence value that the report is designed to generate. Those are the two criteria we use.”

Rep. Rooney: “Is the identity of a U.S. person communicating with a foreign target, is that ordinarily disseminated in a masked or unmasked form?”

Rogers: “No, it is normally disseminated if we make the decision that there is intelligence value and we are going to report on it, it is normally disseminated in a masked form. We use a reference: U.S. person one, U.S. person two. I would highlight, if you look at the total breadth of our reporting, reporting involving U.S. persons at all is an incredibly small subset, in my experience of our total reporting.”

Rep. Rooney: “Who, normally, in the NSA, would make the decision to unmask?”

Rogers: “There are 20 individuals, including myself, who I have delegated this authority to approve unmask requests.”

Rep. Rooney: “And, does the level of approval change depending upon the reason for unmasking – if it was something or somebody, say, really important, would that matter?”

Rep. Rogers: “It’s not, necessary designated in writing that way, by certainly by custom and tradition, at times, requests will be pushed up. I’m the senior-most of the 20 individuals, requests will be pushed to my level, saying, ‘Hey, sir, we just want to make sure you’re comfortable with this.’”