In 2005, Senator Joe Biden was very concerned with unmasking of Americans in NSA intercepts requested by John Bolton. During Bolton’s confirmation hearing for the role of U.N. Ambassador, Biden raised concerns about the underlying reasons for the unmasking of 19 Americans or American entities by Bolton in 10 separate requests. Given the recent revelations of Biden’s own unmasking of General Michael Flynn, this clip from the hearing is rather stunning:
Biden clearly states that NSA intercepts retrieved as part of an intelligence inquiry show the name of the foreigner, but mask the name of the American or American entity. As we know, this is because the American has 4th Amendment protections not afforded foreign citizens and entities.
He then shared that he had questioned Bolton on the unmasking in the 10 intercepts he had requested. Bolton responded he made the requests for context and intellectual curiosity. Biden then noted some had reported Bolton requested the identities to bolster his own positions in disagreements regarding foreign policy.
It has been alleged as I said that Mr. Bolton has been spying on rivals within the bureaucracy both inferior and superior to him. While I doubt this as I have said publicly before, we have a duty to be sure he did not misuse this data.
Wait. I thought the use of the word spying in reference to the activities of a government official was verboten. I am almost sure The New York Times went apoplectic when Attorney General Barr used that term to describe the counterintelligence surveillance of the Trump campaign. My how times change.
If we are looking for examples of unmasking your political opponents to try and preserve your own foreign policy preferences, there may be no better example than what the Obama administration did to General Flynn. His communications with foreigners were unmasked by various members of the Obama administration nearly 50 times between November 30, 2016, and January 12, 2017.
One thing is certain. The foreign policy of the Obama administration could not be more diametrically opposed to the foreign policy President Trump ran on. General Flynn had opposed the Iran deal publicly. This was President Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement. Flynn also wanted to restructure the intelligence agencies to focus on the field rather than a bloated Washington bureaucracy.
His appointment to the position of NSA was announced November 17, 2016, and he officially became a member of the transition. Beginning on that date, it would be normal and expected that Flynn would be having conversations with foreign leaders and diplomats. The only basis for unmasking at that point was to spy on the incoming administration.The Obama administration appears to be routinely trying to understand Flynn’s conversations with foreigners. Not just the one with Russian Ambassador Kislyak on December 29, 2016.
President-elect Trump had very little support from the GOP foreign policy establishment. Flynn was removed through a smear campaign coordinated between Obama officials and the media. The leak of General Flynn’s phone call with Ambassador Kislyak in The Washington Post set the stage for his removal from President Trump’s staff. It also set up the questioning by the FBI agents who started the ball rolling on a legal nightmare that has been ongoing for three years.
Flynn was not the only one pursued by the FBI and the media. For his views on radical Islam, Sebastian Gorka was subjected to unrelenting personal attacks. K.T. McFarland had broken with the foreign policy establishment on China. She was then targeted by the FBI with an extended pressure campaign. She has alleged it was to get her to provide untrue or false information regarding Russian collusion with members of the administration.
Sure seems like Joe Biden was super concerned about unmasking U.S. citizens for political reasons. Until he wasn’t. He unmasked General Flynn on January 12, 2017. And the only reason to do so was purely political. The Obama administration’s activities appear to be aimed at preserving their own foreign policy legacy—with countless lives ruined in the process.