In 2013, Obama’s Intelligence Chief issued a set of revised procedures that enabled the executive branch officials to reveal the names of Lawmakers and congress members and staff members who were involved with intelligence intercepts with foreign lands.
These procedures substituted those provided in 1992, that clearly mentioned to not to include the names of those intercepted lawmakers and congressional helpers.
According to the new standards, if, “an executive branch recipient of intelligence” believed that finding out about the “identity of the member of congress or the Congressional Staff is necessary to understand and assess the associated intelligence and further a lawful activity of the recipient agency”, according to the memo that was released earlier this month by the DNI’s office with the very little public fanfare.
Before this, the rules authorized by President George H. W. Bush and the CIA Director of the time Robert Gates, the chief was supposed to give the approval himself in written before the release of any information that could be classified as “a legitimate foreign intelligence or counterintelligence need” which couldn’t be possibly “satisfied in any other fashion”.
If any information did not match this criteria then the executives had to delete the name of any congress employees named in the findings, a process that is called minimization. This practice existed to protect American’s privacy, as the majority of spy intercepts are captured without any court approved warrant.
The Obama-era intelligence officials who were involves in the formation and implementation of these new rules claim that there was no political motive involved.
Followed the 9/11 attacks, numerous practices and procedures were modified over time – often on the fly. Obama-era officials claim that the 2013 changes were simply a formalization of the accumulated modifications to existing rules and processes.
Robert Litt, the former Director of National Intelligence general counsel said, “The document created in 2013 was essentially a way of incorporating those changes already in practice”.
Though these changes ae claimed to be “a part of the process” it has raised many concerns, and rightly so, the numbers of unmasking an official has increased to an astonishing one per month. This incredible rate has caused concern among congressmen.
Sens. Rand Paul and Lindsay Graham, GOP presidential candidates for year 2016 believe that their identities were compromised by the Obama intelligence officials – the Obama Administration has neither confirmed or denied this allegation publicly.
But the Clapper memo also induced a lot of major changes in the minimization process. The major ones amongst them for example was the expanded circle of exempted officials to include, “the senior deputies and senior advisors for these named principles”.
For instance Obama’s deputy national security adviser could request unmasking congress members on behalf of Obama himself, Susan Rice the national security advisor, the senior deputies and advisers to secretary state John Kerry and Defense Secretaries Ash Carter.
In comparison, the 1992 rules exempted only the president, vice president, the secretaries of defense and state. Furthermore, the President’s national security advisers were the only ones authorized to request unmasking of an involved congress member without getting a written approval before hand.
Officials who are familiar with the 2013 memo were reported to say that they understood that they were doubling the people who could request unmasking outside the normal de-minimization process and that the language was provided to ensure that there were no accidental downstream leaking of critical information.
In case of special requests, the requestor wanting to share the unmasked congressional names more widely throughout the organization had to submit a “Routine Request” through pre-decided normal channels of DNI and get proper approvals to start the procedure, as per the new rules.
Clearly – if the new procedures were strongly designed to keep accidents from happening, then, the massive, coordinated unmasking of Trump Transition staffers was no accident.