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‘Pot Calling the Kettle Black’: National Security Experts Call Out Fmr. George W. Bush Press Secretary’s ‘Unmasking’ Take


A slew of national security experts on Monday went after George W. Bush’s former press secretary, Ari Fleischer, over comments he made criticizing Obama administration officials who made requests to “unmask” American citizens.

Law&Crime previously explained at length how anonymous American individuals who show up in intelligence reports can be “unmasked” to provide better context for official analysis. It is an increasingly routine government intelligence practice which has become even more prevalent under the Trump administration. The controversy surrounding the unmasking of Michael Flynn has of late become the foundation for arguments that Flynn was wrongfully targeted by Obama administration officials, including then-Vice President Joe Biden.

“Thread worth reading,” Fleischer wrote, referring to a Fox News op-ed written by former National Security Council (NSC) chief of staff Fred Fleitz. “However, I suspect the MSM won’t care unless they find a journalist was unmasked. I suspect Congress won’t care unless they find a Congressman was unmasked. I care because civil liberties matter. There’s a good reason names are masked to begin with.”

Fleitz’s op-ed focused largely on the rarity of National Security Agency (NSA) authorized unmasking during his time in the White House. However, several former officials last week told the Washington Post that the intelligence about the Flynn-Sergey Kislyak calls were held by the FBI, not the NSA, and “a summary describing them was circulated among senior Obama administration officials without Flynn’s identity being masked.” What’s more, experts said, “masking” became a thing after the Bush years. In other words, the data reviewed by the Bush Administration was wide open.

National security experts were quick to point out the faulty premise espoused in Fleitz’s op-ed. Still others said Fleischer was in no position to criticize other administrations given his role in the post-9/11 Bush White House and stance on the Iraq War.

“Did you not read what NSADIR wrote? All unmaskings were to authorized individuals & followed proper NSA procedure, incl[uding] justification. Given what your Administration argued was lawful to do, you have gall to criticize,” National security attorney Mark Zaid said.

National security lawyer Bradley P. Moss, Zaid’s colleague, similarly took aim at Fleischer’s purported defense of “civil liberties.”

“’I care because civil liberties matter.’ Ari, you guys oversaw vast warrantless surveillance during your WH tenure. Warrantless. Without a warrant. So please, take a step back, Sir,” he tweeted.

Referring to Fleitz’s underlying op-ed, George Croner, the former principal litigation counsel at the NSA, said Fleitz’s past experience pre-dates current procedures and “brings nothing to the debate.”

Former FBI special agent and current CNN national security analyst Asha Rangappa made similar observations.

“The reason there is any ‘masking’ at all is because that’s the minimization required to disseminate info acquired by the 702 program — the setup Congress had to put in place after the [George W. Bush] admin[istration] was caught illegally surveilling Americans,” she wrote.

“That was while you worked for him, FYI.”

“Pot calling the kettle black,” Zaid said in response to Rangappa’s tweet.

[image via YouTube screengrab]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.