I once knew a guy in Galveston, Texas who owned a tuna boat with which he made his living as a fisherman. I learned from him that tuna are caught in nets which often catch dolphins as well. Dolphins will drown in the nets if not released soon after they become caught in the net. To prevent the dolphins from drowning fisherman are required by law to make sure all dolphins are released from the net before pulling the net to the boat. A special technique has been developed to accomplish this task. It works very well and saves dolphin lives.
I thought of this upon learning that the National Security Agency often catches Americans in their spy nets when they are surveilling foreign persons for national security purposes. The NSA is prohibited by law from spying on Americans. That territory belongs to the FBI and other intelligence agencies. So, as in tuna fishing, a system for releasing Americans from the NSA spy net exists. It’s called “masking” the identity of any American who happens to be incidentally spied upon by the NSA. There is an approved procedure for “unmasking” any such Americans, and it’s an abuse of power to unmask Americans any other way for any other purpose.
It’s a gross abuse of power for anyone to unmask Americans collected in NSA spying activity when the purpose of the unmasking is for political gain. There are now serious allegations that the Obama administration unmasked people in the Trump campaign leading up to the presidential election. Just because some American has been collected in NSA surveillance does not mean they have done anything illegal or that they are a threat to national security. That’s why there is special procedure to be followed to unmask anyone. There has to be a good national security reason to do it.
To unmask a political opponent for the purpose of leaking that information to the media, all to gain political power, is certainly an abuse of power and could even be illegal. The Obama administration is suspected of doing just that.
Former ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power was not an intelligence analyst and would have had no reason to seek the unmasking of any American. She is among seven people who have been subpoenaed by Rep. David Nunes, chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence says, Oh, This is Just the Beginning.
Any single incident of unmasking might not rise to the level of a crime. But a pattern of unmasking without any discernible national security reason would indicate it was all political.