A question from a Democratic lawmaker prompted the House Intelligence Committee a few months ago to request information that required U.S. intelligence agencies to consider unmasking identifying information about Americans who may have been impacted during the Russia election hacking scandal.
The request was relayed to the intelligence community by Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Ca., as required by committee rules but the question actually came a from a Democrat on the East Coast who is a committee member, multiple sources from
intelligence agencies have told Circa.
The anecdote was offered to Circa as an example showing that unmasking requests are routine within the intelligence community. "Unmasking doesn't have to be sinister. It can be, as in this case, a legitimate national security question from a person who has a need to know the information to understand their briefing or to do their job," said an Intelligence source, with knowledge of the procedures.
WATCH | House Intelligence Committee issued seven subpoenas on Wednesday.
The intelligence sources refused to provide the specifics of what the Democrat requested and what, if anything, intelligence agencies offered as an answer except to say the request from Nunes relayed a follow-up question from the Democratic member after the intelligence committee was briefed this past winter on the Russia election scandal.
A spokesman for the House Intelligence Committee declined to offer any comment.
An NSA official, who could not comment on the specific request, said, “in the case of any unmasking request we follow our standard procedures to come up with the proper decision.”
Circa has reported that unmasking requests have grown since then-President Obama loosened so-called minimization rules in 2011 that protect the privacy of Americans incidentally intercepted by the National Security Agency overseas.
WATCH | Circa looks at a classified document from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Circa also has reported the volume of times that U.S. intelligence agencies sought to search NSA data for information on Americans has tripled since 2013, and that in some cases the NSA, FBI and CIA have inappropriately searched, reviewed or shared NSA-related intelligence about U.S. persons in violation of federal procedures.
Nunes on the right and the ACLU on the left have raised concerns about whether some unmaskings have been excessive and politically motivated and thus violated the 4th Amendment.
Nunes committee issued three subpoenas this week seeking information about possible unmasking requests from three former Obama appointees: CIA Director John Brennan, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and UN Ambassador Samantha Power.
Since Circa's stories, intelligence sources have sought to provide generally described examples of unmasking requests to show how the process has worked and to counter concerns that unmasking is somehow nefarious or politically motivated. The intelligence committee anecdote is one such example that was offered.