Susan Rice, former president Barack Obama’s top security adviser, requested that the National Security Agency reveal the names of several associates of President Donald Trump that were mentioned in intelligence reports, according to two separate reports.
Under current law, the NSA is permitted to make recordings of foreigners’ conversations but when American citizens are mentioned or are involved in those conversations, their names must be “masked” so as to prevent their identification when other agencies review them.
Shortly before he left office Obama relaxed federal regulations governing the methods whereby private citizens’ names could be “unmasked.” A significantly higher number of federal employees were allowed access to this information under the new rules. The move was condemned by the American Civil Liberties Union at the time.
“Rather than dramatically expanding government access to so much personal data, we need much stronger rules to protect the privacy of Americans,” American Civil Liberties Union attorney Patrick Toomey told The New York Times. “Seventeen different government agencies shouldn’t be rooting through Americans’ emails with family members, friends and colleagues, all without ever obtaining a warrant.”
Prior to the rules change, only a select number of individuals had been allowed to access this information including the national Security adviser, the role performed by Rice.
According to reports from Bloomberg News columnist Eli Lake and Circa News correspondents Sara Carter and John Solomon, Rice accessed numerous raw intelligence reports related to Trump campaign and transition officials. Both media outlets did not name their sources for this information.
According to Circa, Rice’s requests appeared to begin in July, which is around the time that Trump secured the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. The Bloomberg report indicated that the requests were discovered by Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence in the Trump White House.
The new information does not corroborate a March 4 allegation from President Trump in which he claimed that the Obama administration “had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower.”
After initially defending this claim, the White House and Trump’s congressional GOP supporters have backed away from it and have claimed instead that Trump officials were accidentally recorded.
Rice has yet to publicly comment on the reports of such an NSA request. In late March, she did deny the wiretapping claim. “Nothing of the sort occurred,” she said in an interview with PBS.