In the last episode of “Citizen Four,” we learned about the FBI’s warrantless wiretapping program, the Bush Administration’s warrantless surveillance, the NSA’s warrantless eavesdropping against American citizens, and the Bush Administration’s wiretapping on the President of the United States. In this third installment, we learn much more about one aspect of these activities: The “unmasking” of U.S. citizens whose identities were unmasked in intelligence reports, including the President and other top government officials.
Last week, the White House was challenged by three members of Congress to answer two questions posed in this report on unmasking: 1. Why did the White House not object to the requests for unmaskings made by the FBI under both President Bush and President Obama? 2. If the President or other senior officials were not informed that intelligence reports were being unmasked with the identities of Americans, when and how were they informed? The White House has refused to answer both questions and have said that any information to be unmasked that was not already there was irrelevant to foreign intelligence purposes.
Now, a special White House committee — the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board (POIB) — is in place to investigate these matters. The committee will be led by a former member of the George W. Bush administration (and the only former intelligence official under President Trump), and three committee members have been confirmed for the position of former Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; an Obama-appointed member of the Board, who chaired its investigation into the Bush Administration’s misuse of the torture program; as well as current board member Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
President Trump has publicly promised to find those responsible for the unmasking, and promised that “nobody is above the law.” While such a promise is laudable, we should not assume that the White House will follow through on this promise.
A critical question at this moment is whether the White House and President Trump understand that any government official who would do this against the advice of their officials should be disciplined for doing so. A White House official who does this should be questioned about whether he misled the President or others, and if necessary, expelled from government for such a serious matter. The existence of this special committee will allow President Trump to hold the intelligence officials accountable for their actions, and the President certainly has a right to question these officials at any time. However, the existence of a special committee
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