Watch | Circa’s Sara Carter reports on Susan Rice and her involvement in unmasking intel on Trump associates.
Computer logs that former President Obama’s team left behind in the White House indicate his national security adviser Susan Rice accessed numerous intelligence reports during Obama’s last seven months in office that contained National Security Agency intercepts involving Donald Trump and his associates, Circa has learned.
Intelligence sources said the logs discovered by National Security Council staff suggested Rice’s interest in the NSA materials, some of which included unmasked Americans’ identities, appeared to begin last July around the time Trump secured the GOP nomination and accelerated after Trump’s election in November launched a transition that continued through January.
The intelligence reports included some intercepts of Americans talking to foreigners and many more involving foreign leaders talking about the future president, his campaign associates or his transition, the sources said. Most if not all had nothing to do with the Russian election interference scandal, the sources said, speaking only on condition of anonymity given the sensitive nature of the materials.
Ordinarily, such references to Americans would be redacted or minimized by the NSA before being shared with outside intelligence sources, but in these cases, names were sometimes unmasked at the request of Rice or the intelligence reports were specific enough that the American’s identity was easily ascertained, the sources said.
The exact national security justifications for Rice accessing the reports isn’t clear and may require additional documentation that the House and Senate intelligence committees have requested from the NSA, America’s lead agency in spying on foreign powers.
How the information was disseminated beyond Rice will also be a potential focus of congressional oversight, since lawmakers may want to know if it was briefed to Obama or shared with members of her larger circle of advisers, like deputy Ben Rhodes.
Rice has not returned repeated calls for comment from Circa. But in an interview with PBS recently, she said she had no idea what House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes was talking about when he said Obama officials were monitoring Trump associates after the election.
One intelligence professional with detailed knowledge of how the NSA and other intelligence agencies share information with the White House during transitions told Circa that U.S. intelligence reporting on foreign leaders’ perceptions of Trump spiked after his unexpected election win in November, creating a trove of information that could be accessed by the outgoing White House.
“There’s always intelligence reporting on an incoming president and how the world is reacting but this election was not like others, and that reporting spiked,” the source said. “Whether and how it was used by the Obama team will have to be evaluated separate of the fact that the reporting this time around was richer and more robust because of the circumstances of the election.”
Both the Republican chairman and Democratic vice chairman of the Housing Intelligence Committee have been shown the documents discovered by the NSC over the last 10 days.
The NSA can legally intercept foreigners’ conversations without court permission under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but it cannot target Americans’ conversations overseas. If an American is accidentally intercepted or two foreigners are caught talking about an American, that name is supposed to be redacted in intelligence reports and replaced by a description like “U.S. citizen 1.”
But Circa reported last week that Obama opened the door for his political aides like Rice to more easily gain access to unmasked Americans’ names in NSA intercepts through a series of rule changes beginning in 2011.