On Monday, Fox News, citing "multiple sources," reported that Susan Rice, national security adviser to former President Barack Obama, had asked intelligence agencies to "unmask" the names of Trump transition officials caught up in foreign surveillance, then sent the unmasked names to a handful of top intelligence officials. Monday night, CBS News reported that "a former national security official" partially confirmed the report, saying Rice did sometimes ask that certain names be unmasked when crucial to understanding the context of a report, but did not ask for the unmasked names to be disseminated broadly. Rice's alleged actions would appear to be legal.
Names of U.S. citizens are "masked" when they are caught up incidentally in surveillance of foreign officials, and National Security Council officials can request the unmasking of names. Such requests have to be approved by the head of the agency that provided the intelligence. The CBS News source said Rice's requests were not specially related to the Trump transition team, though the former official did not dispute that Rice has requested the unmasking of Trump-related names.
An unidentified "person close to Rice" told CNN Monday night that Rice never "improperly sought the identity of Americans," adding: "There is nothing unusual about making these requests when serving as a senior national security official, whether Democrat or Republican." CNN's Jim Sciutto said that not only is "unmasking" names legal under "protocols that have been put in place since 9/11 to allow this to happen," but "I'm told that it is very meticulously logged — someone said to me, described it's like Catholic baptismal records, it's so well logged. You can't do this in secret, and you have to do it with the approval of the intelligence community."
Back at Fox News, Shepard Smith noted the Rice allegations on Monday afternoon and more or less accused the White House of focusing on unmasking to distract from the real story. Wall Street Journal associate editor John Bussey said his newspaper had not yet confirmed Rice's involvement, but even if it does, "it will be a factor in the discussion, I can't imagine it's going to change the core narrative here, which is who in the Trump campaign was communicating with the Russians, what were those conversations about, did they in any way affect the U.S. electoral process?" Watch below. Peter Weber