(CNSNews.com) – If a U.S. citizen is caught up in incidental intelligence collection, that person’s name cannot be revealed unless the intelligence agency that gathered the information agrees to a request to “unmask” that American person’s name.
“How many of those requests did you get in 2016?” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Admiral Michael Rogers at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday. Rogers heads both the National Security Agency and the U.S. Cyber Command.
“I think we’ve publicly acknowledged something – it’s 2,000. I think it’s one thousand nine-hundred and something,” Rogers replied.
“How many people can request the unmasking of an American citizen?” Graham continued.
“If you’re an authorized recipient of the intelligence – we use two criteria. Number one, the requester must be asking this in the execution of their official duties. It can’t be something that would be neat to know,” Rogers said.
“Number two, the revealing of the U.S. person has to provide context and greater value for the intelligence. Again, it can’t just be, ‘I’m just curious.’”
Rogers said a broad group of people can make unmasking requests: "If you are on the authorized distribution for our intelligence reporting, you can ask. It doesn’t mean it gets approved, but you can ask.”
Rogers said the national security adviser is normally on the distribution list, and “yes,” there is a record for every unmasking request that is made.
Graham told Rogers, “So there’s a record of who made the request to unmask the conversation involving the American citizen. There’s a record of whether or not you granted it.”
Rogers agreed with both those statements, but he said there is no record of what the person did with the information once they got it.
“There’s also a record of the basis -- so why did we say yes,” Rogers added. He said the unmasking is authorized only for the individual who requested it, and that person is told not to share the information.
Graham noted that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s conversation with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. was captured by one of the intelligence agencies: “Assuming he did not have a FISA warrant allowing us to collect on him, it would be a case of incidental collection (from) following the Russian ambassador. Does that make sense?” Graham asked Rogers.
“Yes, sir,” Rogers agreed.
“We would know how that conversation was revealed and to who (sic) it was revealed,” Graham continued.
Rogers said yes – if the unmasking was based on information gathered by the NSA. He noted that the FBI also picks up incidental collection.
“OK, so we could either ask the FBI or you,” Graham said. “OK. So somebody took that information that we gained through collection with Flynn and gave it to the Washington Post.”
“And that is a leak, and that is illegal, yes, sir,” Rogers said. He added that he is very concerned about such leaks, and he has warned his employees in writing not to engage in such behavior or they will be held criminally liable.
Graham concluded: “The bottom line here, it is possible for the Congress to find out who requested unmasking of American citizens, who that information was given to, and that is possible for us to know.”
Rogers replied, “On the NSA side, that’s part of the ongoing investigation with the primary oversight committees that we’re going through right now.”
“OK,” said Graham. “Do you know if Susan Rice ever asked for an American citizen to be unmasked?”
“I’d have to pull the data, sir, I apologize,” Rogers said. The exchange ended at that point.
At a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Monday, Sen. Graham asked a similar question: “How did the conversation between the Russian ambassador and Mr. Flynn make it to the Washington Post?” He said he intends to find out.