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Circa News "Former Obama Aide Ben Rhodes now a person of interest in unmasking investigation."

FILE - In this Feb. 16, 2016 file photo Deputy National Security Adviser For Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)


CIRCA NEWS:

Former Obama White House National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes is now an emerging as a person of interest in the House Intelligence Committee’s unmasking investigation, according to a letter sent Tuesday by the committee to the National Security Agency (NSA). This adds Rhodes to the growing list of top Obama government officials who may have improperly unmasked Americans in communications intercepted overseas by the NSA, Circa has confirmed.

The House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-CA, sent the letter to the National Security Agency requesting the number of unmaskings made by Rhodes from Jan. 1, 2016 to Jan. 20, 2017, according to congressional sources who spoke with Circa. Rhodes, who worked closely with former National Security Adviser Susan Rice and was a former deputy national security adviser for strategic communications for President Obama, became a focus of the committee during its review of classified information to assess whether laws were broken regarding NSA intercepted communications of President Trump, members of his administration and other Americans before and after the election, according to congressional officials. The committee is requesting that the NSA deliver the information on Rhodes by August, 21.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, Rice and former CIA Director John Brennan have all been named in the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into the unmasking of Americans. A letter sent last week from Nunes to Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, suggested that top Obama aides made hundreds of unmasking requests during the 2016 presidential elections. The story, which was first reported by The Hill last week, stated that the requests were made without specific justifications as to why the unmasking was necessary. Rice and Brennan have confirmed they sought the unredacted names of Americans in NSA-sourced intelligence reports but insisted their requests were routine parts of their work and had no nefarious intentions. Power also has legal authority to unmask officials, though the practice has not reportedly been common for someone in her position. Rhodes also had legal authority to unmask Americans in NSA-source intelligence reports. But intelligence and congressional sources question the extent of the unmasking.

Nunes told Coats in a letter last week that the committee has "found evidence that current and former government officials had easy access to U.S. person information and that it is possible that they used this information to achieve partisan political purposes, including the selective, anonymous leaking of such information.”

Multiple federal law enforcement and intelligence officials told Circa, that requesting an unmasking for intelligence and analytical purposes is something that is done only when the information is absolutely necessary to analyze a specific threat or for other national security purposes. An intelligence source, with direct knowledge of the type of requests made by the Obama aides, said "it's like hell and high water to fill out and gain approval for these types of unmaskings. It's something analysts take seriously and could entail filling out 80 pages of paperwork to prove there is a need to unmask. If top officials were unmasking without oversight it's something everyone should be concerned about and it puts our intelligence community in a very bad place."

Retired House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra, (R-MI) and nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, who was a supporter of the NSA programs, said he is "deeply concerned" that there may have been an abuse of power regarding the warrantless spying programs, saying "there needs to be a full investigation into who was being unmasked and why. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if there isn't enough votes to reauthorize the program, unless this situation can be resolved."

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