For months now, Senator Lindsey Graham has been trying to get an answer to a very simple question, namely ‘if his conversations are ‘incidentally’ captured while he’s overseas talking with a foreign leader who’s being surveilled by the U.S. intelligence community and his name is subsequently unmasked, is he, as a United States citizen and/or as a U.S. Senator, legally entitled to know that he’s been unmasked?’
And while the entire world is being distracted by the “Russian meddling” narrative, Graham’s question highlights the single most important issue that should be “top-of-mind” for Americans as it gets to the heart of whether the various intelligence agencies in this country can be transformed into political weapons of mass destruction.
As we pointed out a couple of months ago, the timing of Susan Rice’s requests to unmask conversations conducted by Trump officials that were ‘incidentally collected’, and the subsequent leaking of that information to the press, would seem to highlight the urgent need for clarity on this topic (see “Confirmed: Susan Rice “Unmasked” Trump Team“).
Meanwhile, a recently revealed FISA court order should also raise some serious concerns as it found that, under the Obama administration, NSA analysts had been conducting illegal queries targeting American citizens “with much greater frequency than had previously been disclosed to the Court”…an issue which the court described as a “very serious Fourth Amendment issue.”
“Since 2011, NSA’s minimization procedures have prohibited use of U.S.-person identifiers to query the results of upstream Internet collection under Section 702. The October 26, 2016 Notice informed the Court that NSA analysts had been conducting such queries in violation of that prohibition, with much greater frequency than had previously been disclosed to the Court.”
“At the October 26, 2016 hearing, the Court ascribed the government’s failure to disclose those IG and OCO reviews at the October 4, 2016 hearing to an institutional ‘lack of candor’ on NSA’s part and emphasized that ‘this is a very serious Fourth Amendment issue.'”
Therefore, given the gravity of the question and the implications behind it, one would think that the nation’s top intelligence community lawyer, Bradley Brooker, would have been more prepared to answer Senator Graham’s question earlier today when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Instead, Graham got nothing more than a couple of smirks from behind a massive stone wall.
The line of questioning started off simply enough…
Graham: “Lets get back to 702. I’m overseas talking to a foreign leader, which I do a lot, if they’re collecting on that foreign leader, I want to know is it possible for somebody in the administration to get ahold of the conversation and unmask me. Is that possible?”
The answer to that question was a very simple, “Yes.”
So far so good…but then apparently things got much more complicated with Graham asked whether it was possible for him to know whether that unmasking occurred:
Graham: “Is it possible for me to know if that happened?”
“Can I find that out? I want to know. Do I have the legal right as a United States Senator to find out if my government is monitoring conversations between me and a foreign leader?”
After a few attempts at stonewalling, Graham once again tried to rephrase is question:
Graham: “So what’s the answer here? Am I ever going to get to know the basic facts? Because if I’m going to be monitored overseas…maybe there’s a good reason to monitor the person I’m talking to, I just want to know what consequence, as a Senator, flows my way. If somebody in my own administration doesn’t like me, if another administration outside my party doesn’t like me, should I be worried about that conversation falling into the hands of political people that may be one day used against me?”“I don’t mind if you’re listening, I do mind if someone can take that information and use it politically.”
Alas, no answer ever came…which, we suspect, is an answer all by itself, albeit not that one that most of us would like.