Over at Fox News, they use the word “unmasking” a lot. To me, it looks like they haven’t realized it is a common practice in the intelligence community. They just use the word a lot so that their low-information viewers will think it is bad.
“Unmasking”, of course, is the process whereby a redacted name of an American citizen is unredacted for someone who is reading an intelligence report. A request is made to unmask the name so that the reader can better understand and perhaps act on the information (or fully advise another)
Unmasking is not leaking. When the name of a U.S. person is unmasked, that information is provided only to the intelligence official who requested that unmasking. There’s no equivalence between so-called unmasking and leaking. Of course, the recipient of unmasked information could then illegally disclose it through a leak. But that’s leaking.
Unmasking is not a crime. The process for unmasking vary from agency to agency and case by case depending on how the information was collected. But the exact procedures are not publicly known and may be classified.
Even if it turns out that procedures weren’t followed, people would most likely be subject to administrative discipline. It’s still not a crime.
But Trump and obedient Republicans have to switch focus to something other than possible Russia collusion, so “unmasking” is their go-to. In the recent subpoenas sent out by the House Intelligence Committee, half of them were related to investigations of “improper unmasking.”
Never mind that these allegations have already been thoroughly debunked. In April, numerous media outlets, citing both Republican and Democratic congressional sources, reported that intelligence reports pertaining to the communications of Trump’s advisers with foreign agents were “normal and appropriate” and contained “no evidence of wrongdoing.”
Even Trump is pimping the unmasking. His tweet today:
The big story is the “unmasking and surveillance” of people that took place during the Obama Administration.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 1, 2017
It’s really not. As I said, even improper unmasking is an administrative slap on the wrist.
But Trump has a bigger problem. Pushing the “unmasking and surveillance” line only leads to more information about why requests were made. And when that information comes to the surface, well, that’s a path that’s been harmful to Trump’s cause thus far.
I don’t think he sees that many moves ahead.