Who is Susan Rice, the Obama ally behind the 'unmasking' controversy?
Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice on Tuesday denied that she sought to improperly "unmask" Trump campaign officials whose conversations were caught on surveillance by USA intelligence services.
The U.S. official said Rice's Trump-related requests were discovered as part of a National Security Council review of the government's policy on "unmasking" - the intelligence community's term for revealing Americans' identities that would otherwise be hidden in classified reports. Trump launched the first salvo last month when he tweeted that Obama had wiretapped his NY skyscraper, an explosive allegation that senior intelligence and law enforcement officials have denied.
"I realize there has been lots of discussion and controversy around this", Rice said.
"I leaked nothing to nobody and never have and never would", she said.
According to a US official, President Donald Trump's national security aides discovered after the inauguration that Rice had asked for the identities of Trump associates who were referenced in intelligence reports.
Rice said that she and other officials unmasked the names of US persons, but she denied doing so "for any political purposes". "I was surprised to see reports from [House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes] on that count today". She gave, as a hypothetical answer, "if two foreigners were having a conversation" about a possible bombing with an American.
If an official reviewing the report wants to know the identity, the official can request that the agency that collected the information "unmask" the name.
"When that occurred, what I would do - or what any official would do - is to ask their briefer whether the intelligence community could go through its process - and there's a long-standing established process - and decide whether that information as to who that identity of the USA person was could be provided to me", she said.
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"Over eight years, for me and others who served, it was not uncommon, in fact it was necessary at times to make those requests to find out the identity of USA officials, on every topic under the sun when it seemed relevant", she said.
"The notion that some people are trying to suggest, is that by asking for the identity of a person is leaking it, is unequivocally false", Rice added. There is no equivalence between so-called unmasking and leaking.
In 2008, she was national security and foreign relations adviser for Obama's first presidential campaign.
"Absolutely false", she said when asked if there was any truth to it.
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But, even if that was the case, it would not validate the claim that Trump made that he was wiretapped by Obama.
'Masking and unmasking in this context are the set of rules governing how agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation or NSA will treat the information of a USA citizen if they come across said citizen in the course of surveilling a foreign adversary, and only a foreign adversary.
The White House has seized on the idea that the Obama administration improperly surveilled the Republican during and after the November election - an accusation Democrats say is just another red herring thrown out to distract attention from investigations of Russian interference in the campaign on behalf of Trump. She also stated it "had no basis in fact".
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