Clapper: 1,934 American Citizens' Names Were "Unmasked" In 2016; No Reports Of Abuse

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Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that nearly 2,000 American citizens had their private communications, including names, 'unmasked' by NSA surveillance software in 2016.

"On several occasions during my six and a half years as DNI, I requested the identity of U.S. persons to be revealed," Clapper said, "In each such instance, I made these requests so I could fully understand the context of the communication and the potential threat being posed."

"And in 2016, that number was 1,934."

He noted: "At no time did I ever submit a request for personal or political purposes or to voyeuristically look at raw intelligence nor am I aware of any instance of such abuse by anyone else."

JAMES CLAPPER: First, I want to address the meaning of quote, "unmasking," which is an unofficial term that's appeared frequently in the media in recent months and was often I think misused and misunderstand. So it frequently happens that in the course of conducting lawfully authorized electronic surveillance on validated foreign intelligence targets, the collecting agency picks up communications involving U.S. persons, either their direct interface with a validated foreign intelligence target or where there is discussion about those U.S. persons by validated foreign intelligence targets. Under intelligence community minimization procedures, the identities of these U.S. persons are typically masked in reports that go out to intelligence consumers and they're referred to each report at a time as U.S. person one, U.S. person two, et cetera.

However, there are cases when, to fully understand the context of the communication that has been obtained or the threat that is posed, the consumer of that collected intelligence may ask the identity of the U.S. person be revealed. Such requests explain why the unmasking is necessary and that explanation is conveyed back to the agency that collected the information. It is then up to that agency whether to approve the request and to provide the identity. And if the U.S. person's identity is revealed, that identity is provided only to the person who properly requested it, not to a broader audience. This process is subject to oversight and reporting, and in the interest of transparency, my former office publishes a report on the statistics of how many U.S. persons' identities are unmasked based on collection that occurred under section 702 of the FISA Amendment Act, which I'll speak to in a moment. And in 2016, that number was 1,934. On several occasions during my six and a half years as DNI, I requested the identity of U.S. persons to be revealed. In each such instance, I made these requests so I could fully understand the context of the communication and the potential threat being posed.

At no time did I ever submit a request for personal or political purposes or to voyeuristically look at raw intelligence nor am I aware of any instance of such abuse by anyone else.


In Clapper's opening statement Monday, he said that he was not aware of any abuse taking place within the 'unmasking' process:

JAMES CLAPPER: I certainly didn't expect to be before this committee or any other committee of the Congress again so soon since I thought I was all done with this when I left the government. And this is only my first of two hearings this week. But understandably, concern about the egregious Russian interference in our election process is so critically serious as to merit focus, hopefully bipartisan focus by the Congress and the American people.

Last year, the intelligence community conducted an exhaustive review of Russian interference into our presidential election process resulting in a special intelligence community assessment or ICA as we call it. I'm here today to provide whatever information I can now as a private citizen on how the intelligence community conducted its analysis, came up with its findings, and communicated them to the Obama administration, to the Trump transition team, to the Congress and in unclassified form to the American public.

Additionally, I'll briefly address four related topics that have emerged since the ICA was produced. Because of both classification and some executive privilege strictures (ph) requested by the White House, there are limits to what I can discuss. And of course my direct official knowledge of any of this stopped on 20 January when my term of office was happily over.

As you know, the I.C. was a coordinated product from three agencies; CIA, NSA, and the FBI not all 17 components of the intelligence community. Those three under the aegis of my former office. Following an extensive intelligence reporting about many Russian efforts to collect on and influence the outcome of the presidential election, President Obama asked us to do this in early December and have it completed before the end of his term.

The two dozen or so analysts for this task were hand-picked, seasoned experts from each of the contributing agencies. They were given complete, unfettered mutual access to all sensitive raw intelligence data, and importantly, complete independence to reach their findings. They found that the Russian government pursued a multifaceted influence campaign in the run-up to the election, including aggressive use of cyber capabilities.

The Russians used cyber operations against both political parties, including hacking into servers used by the Democratic National Committee and releasing stolen data to WikiLeaks and other media outlets. Russia also collected on certain Republican Party- affiliated targets, but did not release any Republican-related data. The Intelligence Community Assessment concluded first that President Putin directed and influenced campaign to erode the faith and confidence of the American people in our presidential election process. Second, that he did so to demean Secretary Clinton, and third, that he sought to advantage Mr. Trump. These conclusions were reached based on the richness of the information gathered and analyzed and were thoroughly vetted and then approved by the directors of the three agencies and me.

These Russian activities and the result and (ph) assessment were briefed first to President Obama on the 5th of January, then to President-elect Trump at Trump Tower on the 6th and to the Congress via a series of five briefings from the 6th through the 13th of January. The classified version was profusely annotated, with footnotes drawn from thousands of pages of supporting material. The key judgments in the unclassified version published on the 6th of January were identical to the classified version.

While it's been over four months since the issuance of this assessment, as Directors Comey and Rodgers testified before the House Intelligence Committee on the 20th of March, the conclusions and confidence levels reached at the time still stand. I think that's a statement to the quality and professional of the -- of the intelligence community people who produced such a compelling intelligence report during a tumultuous, controversial time, under intense scrutiny and with a very tight deadline.

Throughout the public dialogue about the issue over the past few months, four related topics have been raised that could use some clarification. I'd like to take a few moments to provide - attempt to provide that clarification.

First, I want to address the meaning of quote, "unmasking," which is an unofficial term that's appeared frequently in the media in recent months and was often I think misused and misunderstand. So it frequently happens that in the course of conducting lawfully authorized electronic surveillance on validated foreign intelligence targets, the collecting agency picks up communications involving U.S. persons, either their direct interface with a validated foreign intelligence target or where there is discussion about those U.S. persons by validated foreign intelligence targets. Under intelligence community minimization procedures, the identities of these U.S. persons are typically masked in reports that go out to intelligence consumers and they're referred to each report at a time as U.S. person one, U.S. person two, et cetera.

However, there are cases when, to fully understand the context of the communication that has been obtained or the threat that is posed, the consumer of that collected intelligence may ask the identity of the U.S. person be revealed. Such requests explain why the unmasking is necessary and that explanation is conveyed back to the agency that collected the information. It is then up to that agency whether to approve the request and to provide the identity. And if the U.S. person's identity is revealed, that identity is provided only to the person who properly requested it, not to a broader audience. This process is subject to oversight and reporting, and in the interest of transparency, my former office publishes a report on the statistics of how many U.S. persons' identities are unmasked based on collection that occurred under section 702 of the FISA Amendment Act, which I'll speak to in a moment. And in 2016, that number was 1,934. On several occasions during my six and a half years as DNI, I requested the identity of U.S. persons to be revealed. In each such instance, I made these requests so I could fully understand the context of the communication and the potential threat being posed.

At no time did I ever submit a request for personal or political purposes or to voyeuristically look at raw intelligence nor am I aware of any instance of such abuse by anyone else.

Second is the issue of leaks. Leaks have been conflated with unmaskings in some of the public discourse, but they are two very different things. An unmasking is a legitimate process that consists of a request and approval by proper authorities, as I've just briefly described. A leak is an unauthorized disclosure of classified or sensitive information that is improper under any circumstance.

I've long maintained during my 50-plus year career in intelligence that leaks endanger national security, they compromise sources, methods and tradecraft and they can put assets' lives at risk. And for the record, in my long career, I've never knowingly exposed classified information in an inappropriate manner.

Third is the issue of counterintelligence investigations conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. While I can't and won't comment in this setting on any particular counterintelligence investigation, it's important to understand how such investigations fit into and relate to the intelligence community and at least the general practice I followed during my time as DNI with respect to FBI counterintelligence investigations.

When the intelligence community obtains information suggesting that a U.S. person is acting on behalf of a foreign power, the standard procedure is to share that information with the lead investigatory body, which of course is the FBI. The bureau then decides whether to look into that information and handles any ensuing investigation if there is one. Given its sensitivity, even the existence of a counterintelligence investigation's closely held, including at the highest levels.

During my tenure as DNI, it was my practice to defer to the FBI director, both Director Mueller and then subsequently Director Comey, on whether, when and to what extent they would inform me about such investigations. This stems from the unique position of the FBI, which straddles both intelligence and law enforcement. And as a consequence, I was not aware of the counterintelligence investigation Director Comey first referred to during his testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee for Intelligence on the 20th of March, and that comports with my public statements.

Finally I'd like to comment on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendment Acts, as it's called, what it governs and why it's vital. This provision authorizes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to approve electronic surveillance of non-U.S. person, let me repeat that, non-U.S. person, foreign intelligence targets outside the United States. Section 702 has been a tremendously effective tool in identifying terrorists and other threats to us, while at the same time protecting the privacy and civil liberties of U.S. persons.

And as the - as Chairman Graham indicated, Section 702 is due for reauthorization by Congress this year. It was renewed in 2012 for five years and it expires on 31 December of this year. With so many misconceptions flying around, it would be tragic for Section 702 to become a casualty of misinformation and for us to lose a tool that is so vital to the safety of this nation.

In conclusion, Russia's influence activities in the run-up to the 2016 election constituted the high water mark of their long running efforts since the 1960s to disrupt and influence our elections. They must be congratulating themselves for having exceeded their wildest expectations with a minimal expenditure of resource. And I believe they are now emboldened to continue such activities in the future both here and around the world, and to do so even more intensely. If there has ever been a clarion call for vigilance and action against a threat to the very foundation of our democratic political system, this episode is it.

I hope the American people recognize the severity of this threat and that we collectively counter it before it further erodes the fabric of our democracy.



Monday evening, Trump reacted to the hearing on Twitter:




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