Posts Tagged ‘Susan Rice’

Bob Mueller’s Sideshow

October 31, 2017

Nunes’s Intelligence Committee plods on with the real Russia investigation.

President Trump's Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 17.
President Trump’s Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 17. PHOTO: J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The best way to think of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Monday-morning indictments is as a compliment—backhanded as it may be—to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes.

Like the special prosecutor, Mr. Nunes and his committee have been investigating the 2016 presidential campaign. Unlike the special prosecutor, Mr. Nunes has unearthed hard evidence about both Russian influence on the election and domestic spying on Trump campaign officials. And if the committee gets the documents it has been demanding for months about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s handling of the salacious Christopher Steele dossier, this week may end even more explosively than it’s begun.

Right now that’s hard to imagine, given how Washington has been overwhelmed by Monday’s indictments of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates, as well as news that another former campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts. Though a court will determine whether Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates are guilty of the crimes they are accused of, surely it is worth noting that those charges, serious as they may be, have little to do with what Mr. Mueller was supposed to be investigating when he was named special prosecutor, to wit: “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.”

Meanwhile Mr. Nunes and the Republicans on his intel committee plod on. They do so in the face of mockery and contempt from the Beltway press corps, and sabotage and obstruction by Democrats, especially those on the committee. The obstruction includes a manufactured ethics charge against Mr. Nunes that has deliberately been kept unresolved in the House Ethics Committee as part of an effort to keep a cloud hanging over Mr. Nunes so long as he continues to ask real questions about not only the Russians but our own government.

So what has Mr. Nunes’s committee found? Turns out that in the Obama years, especially in 2016, officials made many requests to unmask the identities of Americans, including Trump campaign officials, who were caught up in foreign surveillance.

When asked about it by PBS’s Judy Woodruff back in March, Obama national security adviser Susan Rice claimed she was “surprised” and told Ms. Woodruff “I know nothing about this.” Under oath before Mr. Nunes’s committee, Ms. Rice’s memory returned, and she admitted of unmasking senior figures in the Trump campaign.

Meanwhile the committee learned that Ms. Rice’s colleague at the United Nations, Ambassador Samantha Power, had made hundreds of unmasking requests. During Ms. Power’s appearance before the committee, she oddly claimed others were doing much of the asking—even though her name was on these requests. Did anyone outside the House committee think to ask why a Democratic White House was so free with such sensitive info in an election year?

Then there’s the Russian question. The Steele dossier is at the heart of the narrative that Mr. Trump had colluded with Moscow to steal the election from Hillary Clinton. Now the same people who pushed this narrative have lost all interest in the document that helped fuel it. When two of Fusion’s three partners invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination rather than reveal who paid for the dossier, it looked as though we might never find out.

But the committee didn’t give up. It subpoenaed Fusion’s bank records, ultimately forcing the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee to acknowledge they had paid for the dossier, notwithstanding earlier Clinton campaign denials. On Saturday the committee announced a deal over Fusion’s bank records it said would “secure the Committee’s access” to what it needed for its investigation.

Big questions remain for the FBI. The main one requires a simple yes-or-no answer: Did the FBI use the information in the Steele dossier to spy on Trump campaign associates? If so, did it first verify the information in the dossier?

And why would the FBI want to pay for more information from a man doing opposition research for Mrs. Clinton?

Here’s another way to put it: As all eyes remain on Special Counsel Mueller and the men he’s indicted, it may be well to pay more attention to a much-maligned committee on Capitol Hill. Because after months of stonewalling and the public intervention of House Speaker Paul Ryan, the FBI has agreed to provide the documents Congress asked for. Mr. Nunes’s office confirms that the FBI documents it has long sought are supposed to arrive this week.

Messrs. Manafort and Gates may well be guilty of everything they’ve been charged with. But this week, thanks to a congressional committee’s persistence, we may find out the answer to what surely is a much more combustible question: whether a presidential campaign was able to leverage opposition research based on Russian disinformation to bring about an FBI investigation into its rival’s campaign.

Write to mcgurn@wsj.com.

Appeared in the October 31, 2017, print edition.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/bob-muellers-sideshow-1509402576

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Susan Rice: “We can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea.”

August 12, 2017

North Korea’s substantial nuclear arsenal and improving intercontinental ballistic missile capacity pose a growing threat to America’s security. But we need not face an immediate crisis if we play our hand carefully.

Given the bluster emanating from Pyongyang and Bedminster, N.J., Americans can be forgiven for feeling anxious.

Shortly after adoption of new United Nations sanctions last weekend, North Korea threatened retaliation against the United States “thousands of times” over. Those sanctions were especially potent, closing loopholes and cutting off important funding for the North. August is also when the United States and South Korea conduct major joint military exercises, which always set Pyongyang on edge. In August 2015, tensions escalated into cross-border artillery exchanges after two South Korean soldiers were wounded by land mines laid by North Korea. This juxtaposition of tough sanctions and military exercises has predictably heightened North Korea’s threats.

We have long lived with successive Kims’ belligerent and colorful rhetoric — as ambassador to the United Nations in the Obama administration, I came to expect it whenever we passed resolutions. What is unprecedented and especially dangerous this time is the reaction of President Trump. Unscripted, the president said on Tuesday that if North Korea makes new threats to the United States, “they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” These words risk tipping the Korean Peninsula into war, if the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, believes them and acts precipitously.

Either Mr. Trump is issuing an empty threat of nuclear war, which will further erode American credibility and deterrence, or he actually intends war next time Mr. Kim behaves provocatively. The first scenario is folly, but a United States decision to start a pre-emptive war on the Korean Peninsula, in the absence of an imminent threat, would be lunacy.

We carefully studied this contingency. “Preventive war” would result in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of casualties. Metropolitan Seoul’s 26 million people are only 35 miles from the border, within easy range of the North’s missiles and artillery. About 23,000 United States troops, plus their families, live between Seoul and the Demilitarized Zone; in total, at least 200,000 Americans reside in South Korea.

Japan, and almost 40,000 United States military personnel there, would also be in the cross hairs. The risk to American territory cannot be discounted, nor the prospect of China being drawn into a direct conflict with the United States. Then there would be the devastating impact of war on the global economy.

The national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, said last week that if North Korea “had nuclear weapons that can threaten the United States, it’s intolerable from the president’s perspective.” Surely, we must take every reasonable step to reduce and eliminate this threat. And surely there may be circumstances in which war is necessary, including an imminent or actual attack on our nation or our allies.

But war is not necessary to achieve prevention, despite what some in the Trump administration seem to have concluded. History shows that we can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea — the same way we tolerated the far greater threat of thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

It will require being pragmatic.

First, though we can never legitimize North Korea as a nuclear power, we know it is highly unlikely to relinquish its sizable arsenal because Mr. Kim deems the weapons essential to his regime’s survival. The North can now reportedly reach United States territory with its ICBMs. The challenge is to ensure that it would never try.

By most assessments, Mr. Kim is vicious and impetuous, but not irrational. Thus, while we quietly continue to refine our military options, we can rely on traditional deterrence by making crystal clear that any use of nuclear weapons against the United States or its allies would result in annihilation of North Korea. Defense Secretary James Mattis struck this tone on Wednesday. The same red line must apply to any proof that North Korea has transferred nuclear weapons to another state or nonstate actor.

Second, to avoid blundering into a costly war, the United States needs to immediately halt the reckless rhetoric. John Kelly, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, must assert control over the White House, including his boss, and curb the Trump surrogates whipping up Cuban missile crisis fears.

Third, we must enhance our antimissile systems and other defenses, and those of our allies, which need our reassurances more than ever.

Fourth, we must continue to raise the costs to North Korea of maintaining its nuclear programs. Ratcheting up sanctions, obtaining unfettered United Nations authority to interdict suspect cargo going in or out of the North, increasing Pyongyang’s political isolation and seeding information into the North that can increase regime fragility are all important elements of a pressure campaign.

Finally, we must begin a dialogue with China about additional efforts and contingencies on the peninsula, and revive diplomacy to test potential negotiated agreements that could verifiably limit or eliminate North Korea’s arsenal.

Rational, steady American leadership can avoid a crisis and counter a growing North Korean threat. It’s past time that the United States started exercising its power responsibly.

House Intelligence Panel Issues Seven Subpoenas in Russia Probe

May 31, 2017

Four are related to Russia investigation, three to ‘unmasking’ controversy, individuals say

Former CIA Director John Brennan testifying before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last week.

Former CIA Director John Brennan testifying before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last week. PHOTO: DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES

The House Intelligence Committee issued seven subpoenas on Wednesday, in a sign that its investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election is ramping up in scope and intensity, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Republican-led committee issued four subpoenas related to the Russia investigation. Three subpoenas are related to questions about how and why the names of associates of President Donald Trump were unredacted and distributed within classified reports by Obama administration officials during the transition between administrations.

The committee has subpoenaed the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency for information about what is called “unmasking.” Republicans on the committee have been pushing for a thorough investigation of how the names of Trump campaign officials became exposed in classified intelligence reports based off intelligence community intercepts.

Those subpoenas seek information on requests made by former national security adviser Susan Rice, former CIA Director John Brennan and former United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power for names to be unmasked in classified material. The three didn’t personally receive subpoenas, the people familiar with the matte said. Mr. Brennan, Ms. Rice and Ms. Power didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Ms. Power hasn’t previously been reported as a potential witness in the probe so her inclusion in the subpoenas may mean Republicans are broadening their areas of investigation.

Typically, information about Americans intercepted in foreign surveillance is redacted, even in classified reports distributed within the government, unless a compelling need exists to reveal them. Unmasking requests aren’t uncommon by top intelligence community officials but Republicans want to know whether any of the unmaskings of Trump campaign officials during the transition were politically motivated.

The four subpoenas related to the Russia investigation remain unknown but Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the panel, has previously said that former national security adviser Mike Flynn would be subpoenaed by the panel. It is unclear if Mr. Flynn is one of the four targeted Wednesday.

The House Intelligence Committee is one of two bodies currently probing the question of whether Russian meddled in the 2016 election and whether anyone from Mr. Trump’s campaign played a role. The Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting its own investigation and has already issued subpoenas to Mr. Flynn and his businesses. Mr. Trump has said there was no collusion with Russia and called the investigation a witch hunt. Russia has denied the allegations.

The House panel also sent a letter to former White House press aide Boris Epshteyn asking him to voluntarily submit information to the committee. Mr. Epshteyn briefly served as special assistant to the president in the Trump administration before departing his post earlier this year.

“Like many others, Mr. Epshteyn has received a broad, preliminary request for information from the House Intelligence Committee,” an attorney for Mr. Epshteyn said Wednesday. “This is a voluntary request. Mr. Epshteyn has not been subpoenaed nor do we anticipate that he will be. We have reached out to the committee with several follow up questions and we are awaiting their response in order to better understand what information they are seeking and whether Mr. Epshteyn is able to reasonably provide it.”

Write to Byron Tau at byron.tau@wsj.com

Iran, Syria And Russia Issue Warning To US; Ex-Syrian General Confirms Assad Lied About Turning Over Chemical Weapons

April 16, 2017

“I could not stand and watch the genocide.”

A day after Iran, Russia and Syria called for an international investigation into the sarin attack on the north Syrian town of Shaykhun and threatened the United States that new strikes on Syrian army positions would not be tolerated, a former Syrian general revealed Assad lied when he said he had turned over all of his chemical weapons in 2013.

Former Brig. Gen. Zaher al-Sakat, who defected from the Syrian army in 2013 and is now living in an undisclosed European country, said during an interview with the British newspaper Telegraph that Assad has deceived United Nations inspectors who came to oversee the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.

Under the Russian-brokered deal — used by the Obama Administration as an excuse to backtrack on an earlier decision to take military action against the Assad regime — the Syrian dictator was supposed to hand over his entire chemical agents inventory but managed to hide at least 700 tons of chemical agents.

Sakat, who used to be the director of the chemical warfare department of the Fifth Division of the Syrian army, says that after the strike on Shaykhun on April 4, Assad still has hundreds of tons chemical weapons at his disposal.

“They admitted only to 1,300 tons, but we knew in reality they had nearly double that. They had at least 2,000 tons. At least,” the defected general told The Telegraph.

Sakat claimed Assad ordered him to carry out attacks with chemical weapons on three occasions but sabotaged the order by switching deadly chemical agents for harmless chemicals in the bombs he had to prepare.

“I couldn’t believe at the beginning that Assad would use these weapons on his people,” he told the British paper.

“I could not stand and watch the genocide. I couldn’t hurt my own people,” he added.

Sakat’s allegations about the chemical weapons stockpile in Addad’s possession are deemed quite “plausible” by Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, the former commander of the UK’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regimen.

Bretton-Gordon thinks Assad used old sarin gas in the attack on Shaykhun because of the relative low number of casualties.

Read the rest:

http://www.westernjournalism.com/iran-syria-russia-issue-warning-us-ex-syrian-general-confirms-assad-lied-turning-chemical-weapons/

Syria Attack Exposes Failed Obama, Kerry Deal to Rid Syrian Regime of Chemical Weapons (What should we think about the Iran nuclear deal?)

April 12, 2017

Efforts to identify gaps in original mission quickly unraveled; Moscow came to see probe as politicized

A poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad adorns a wall as a United Nations vehicle carrying OPCW inspectors leaves a hotel in Damascus in October 2013.

A poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad adorns a wall as a United Nations vehicle carrying OPCW inspectors leaves a hotel in Damascus in October 2013. PHOTO: LOUAI BESHARA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

ISTANBUL—The suspected sarin gas attack in Syria last week revealed one of the worst-kept secrets in international diplomacy: A 2013 deal brokered by Russia and the U.S. failed to cripple the Assad regime’s ability to make or use chemical weapons.

International investigators were already looking into eight incidents involving chemical weapons use just since the start of this year, according to a report by the United Nations Secretary General. Evidence was mounting that Damascus continued to use chemicals—including some it had pledged to give up—in attacks on its citizens, according to Western officials and others involved in the disarmament effort.

But Russia disputed the findings of investigators and experts and blocked any meaningful punishment at the United Nations, and Western powers declined to go further. In recent months, inspectors and diplomats trying to dismantle the chemical weapons program concluded they had hit a wall.

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The April 4 attack, which killed at least 85 adults and children, is a stark example of the challenge: It was launched from an airfield where inspectors years earlier had identified and destroyed a chemical weapons facility, according to two people familiar with the work of the joint mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations at the time.

Ridding Syria of Chemical Weapons: A Timeline

Western and allied intelligence agencies say the Syrian government has had a chemical weapons program since the 1980s. But Damascus never acknowledged having such weapons until a large-scale sarin attack outside Damascus in 2013- in the middle of a civil war to unseat President Bashar al-Assad- almost triggered U.S. military action. Instead, it led to a U.S.-Russian deal to clear Syria of its chemical weapons. Here are key moments since the start of the Syrian war to dismantle the program:

August 2013 — A sarin gas attack hits the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, killing at 1,429 people, according to the U.S. government.
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U.N. investigators already in Syria on the request of the Syrian government divert their attention to the Ghouta attack and conclude that chemical weapons were used on “a relatively large scale” in Eastern Ghouta.
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September 2013 — U.N. Security Council Resolution 2118 establishes a joint OPCW-U.N. mission to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program.
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October 2013 — Syria officially accedes to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
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To address mounting reports of chlorine attacks in rebel-held areas, the OPCW creates a separate fact-finding mission to investigate and confirm the possible use of toxic chemicals, including chlorine, as a weapon in Syria. (The mission’s mandate is only to verify if and what chemicals were used, not to identify perpetrators of attacks)
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March 2014 — OPCW inspectors report major anomalies in the Syrian government’s disclosures on its research and production facilities. The OPCW also creates a “Declaration Assessment Team” to “attempt to clarify gaps and discrepancies in Syria’s initial declaration.”
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June 2014 — The joint OPCW-U.N. mission says that all declared weapons materials of the Syrian Arab Republic have been removed.
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September 2014 — The OPCW fact-finding mission publishes a report concluding with “a high degree of confidence” that chlorine was used as a weapon systematically and repeatedly in three villages in northern Syria.
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March 2015 — U.N. Security Council Resolution 2209 condemns the use of chlorine gas in Syria, noting that it is “the first ever documented instance of the use of toxic chemicals as weapons within the territory of a State Party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
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August 2015 — Following a U.S.-backed proposal, the U.N. Security Council establishes a “Joint Investigative Mechanism” between the U.N. and the OPCW to hold accountable those responsible for chemical attacks in Syria. Its mission is to identify “individuals, entities, groups or governments” involved.
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April 2016 — The U.S. State Department says in a report that Syria hasn’t declared all elements of its chemical weapons program, in violation of its obligations and international norms.
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January 2017 — The Obama administration imposes sanctions on 18 senior Syria officials it says are involved in the use of chemical weapons, the first such sanctions on Syrian officials related to chemical weapons use.
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February 2017 — Russia and China veto a U.N. Security Council resolution seeking to sanction the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons.

Sources: OPCW, U.N., WSJ research

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The U.S. struck the Shayrat Airfield, where Syrian and Russian forces worked side-by-side in recent months, with 59 Tomahawk missiles last week.

White House officials suspect Russia may have known Syria was preparing to launch a chemical attack, and on Tuesday accused Moscow of trying to cover it up.

The Syrian airforce has resumed bombing runs from the airbase since the U.S. airstrike.

“Assad didn’t fire his last salvo of CW, that’s for sure,” a U.S. official said, using an abbreviation for chemical weapons.

The U.S.-Russian agreement in 2013 sought to eliminate the Syrian chemical weapons program.

“Expectations are high… to deliver on the promise of this moment,” Secretary of State John Kerry said at the time.

The mandate of the mission that took up the work later narrowed the parameters to eliminating declared stockpiles and facilities.

Critics of the deal early on said it amounted to a victory for President Bashar al-Assad, who dodged an American military intervention at a moment of regime weakness in exchange for only what chemical stockpiles his regime would declare.

Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both of whom had backed U.S. military action in Syria, criticized the deal then for leaving out an explicit threat of military force for any failure by Syria to comply, calling it “an act of provocative weakness.”

Obama administration officials said the deal successfully rid Syria of the majority of its chemical weapons and that the alternative—a war with Syria or even Russia —would have been far worse.

Some officials involved in the OPCW-U.N. mission defend its success, saying it had a limited mandate and worked under unprecedented conditions to remove and destroy from Syria chemical weapons declared by the Syrian government. By August 2014, behind schedule but still not a year from its deployment, the mission removed 1,300 metric tons of chemicals from Syria, some destroyed at sea in operations that had never been tried before.

Any effort to paint the mission as flawed is “revisionism,” one official involved in its early set-up said, because “all parties involved seemed to be quite content with what had been declared, on the same page as to the extent and nature of the Syrian CW program.”

Non-proliferation experts concur in that assessment.

“Though not acknowledged openly, it is not possible to achieve 100% disarmament of a CW program and verify such, even in the best of circumstances and over a long-period of time. Syria in 2013 was anything but best case scenario,” said Michael Elleman, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, who served on U.N. weapons inspection missions in Iraq. “I still view the mission as a success, from a non-proliferation perspective.”

U.S. and allied intelligence agencies meanwhile are trying to get a better picture of Syria’s chemical weapons after the attack.

A Wall Street Journal investigation in 2015 showed that the regime hid some nerve agents, scattered stockpiles to complicate the work of inspectors, and continued to operate weapons-research facilities even after the main mission to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons in 2014 ended.

More recent concern among U.S. and allied officials, before the latest attack, centered on how traces of sarin were still showing up on the Syrian battlefield. Damascus was also turning to new toxins, such as chlorine and developing new munitions, according to Western officials tracking the issue.

Syria has repeatedly denied it has used chemical weapons.

Western officials and others directly involved in the effort to rid Syria of chemical weapons described in interviews what took place in the months and years that followed the 2013 deal.

The technical efforts to try to identify what the original mission omitted or missed—and the rare U.S.-Russian unity of purpose that backed it—would begin to unravel even before the Danish ship carrying the last batch of chemicals departed the Syrian port of Tartous in the summer of 2014. That spring, the team tasked with dismantling the program saw such inconsistencies between the Syrian government’s declarations and previous intelligence assessments that the OPCW set up a new team dedicated to filling the gaps.

In the months that followed, as scientists studied results from destroyed facilities and inspected equipment that Damascus had denied was related to chemical weapons, the discrepancies grew wider. For example, inspectors couldn’t reconcile the quantities of munitions the Syrians were producing with the chemical weapons they said they had intended to produce.

At the same time, the organization created a separate fact-finding mission to investigate allegations of chlorine attacks—which fell outside the mandate of the inspectors working on destroying the chemical weapons program—in rebel-held areas.

The follow-up work infuriated Russia and Iran, which wanted the OPCW to focus on a narrowly-defined technical mission, according to mission officials and diplomats. Chlorine attacks on rebels surged again several months later, and the OPCW fact-finding mission concluded in a public report that chlorine had been used as a weapon systematically in three villages in northern Syria.

In Damascus, the OPCW team trying to get clearer answers from the government on its initial declarations struggled to get face-time with the relevant officials. Several times they were told Syria had no other information to offer because no paper documents existed related to its chemical weapons program, a major state secret.

“What could be done?” said Wa’el Alzayat, a former advisor to Samantha Power, the U.S.’s former envoy to the U.N, recalling that time period in 2014. “There was no recourse on the U.N. Security Council because of the Russian veto, and there was no recourse on the ground because the [former] administration didn’t want to get involved militarily.”

At the U.N., reports to the Security Council based on briefings from the OPCW made clear Syria was skirting its obligations, but drafts were often watered down to avoid clashing with Russia, diplomats said. “There was absolutely no appetite in the U.N. or among member states to open that can of worms,” a senior U.N. official said. “Everybody conveniently decided to put it to rest, while the bureaucracy continued to report.”

The U.S. scored a diplomatic victory in late 2015, getting Russia at the Security Council to back a new U.N. mission with the OPCW, called the Joint Investigative Mechanism, to identify individuals, entities, groups, or governments involved in chemical weapons in Syria. “Pointing the finger matters,” Ms. Power, the U.S. envoy at the time, told the Security Council.

The resolution came after three more fact-finding missions in Syria established a pattern of attacks with chlorine, and indirectly pointed the blame at the government by identifying that helicopters were used in the attack.

They also found that in at one instance, Islamic State militants had likely used chemical weapons too. Syria had tried to “exercise veto power” over the fact finding missions, according to a U.S. State Department report, but was overruled by the organization.

Damascus at this time again said it had never used chemical weapons, and warned about their use by terrorist groups.

Within months of the new mission starting its work, U.S. and European officials believed they had the evidence they needed to coax Russia into their camp and consider U.N.-backed sanctions on the Syrian regime.

The mission identified Syrian military units and officials believed to be involved in chemical weapons attacks. But Moscow made clear it considered the reporting politicized and didn’t think any of the evidence was credible enough, U.N. diplomats said.

After a report on those findings, which one European official described as “the smoking gun,” was published in the early fall of 2016, it took several months for any response to be debated in earnest, and then attention turned to the Russian-backed Syrian government campaign to drive rebels out of the city of Aleppo.

By the end of 2016, the U.N. was citing “no progress” in the effort to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program. With no movement at the U.N., Western nations reverted to sanctions. In November 2016, the E.U. placed sanctions on 17 Syrian officials. The Obama administration followed the move in January 2017, sanctioning 18 senior Syrian officials it said were involved in the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

In March, OPCW investigators told their counterparts at the U.N. they had no new information to report from Syria and were aiming to resume high-level consultations with the Syrian government in early May.

Corrections & Amplifications
Samantha Power was the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. in 2015. An earlier version of this article misspelled her surname on second reference. An earlier version of this story (April 12)

Write to Nour Malas at nour.malas@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/syria-attack-exposes-failed-deal-to-rid-regime-of-chemical-weapons-1491963112

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What should we think about the Iran nuclear deal?

Susan Rice Mostly Wrong About Syria’s Chemical Weapons: “The Obama administration had a tendency to oversell what was accomplished…”

April 10, 2017

Fox News

Image result for susan rice, photos

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Former Obama official Susan Rice’s claim just a few months ago that the Assad regime “voluntarily and verifiably” gave up its chemical weapons stockpile earned a full rebuke from a prominent fact-checker on Monday in the wake of last week’s chemical attack.

The Washington Post fact-checker gave the former national security adviser a rating of “four Pinocchios” — the worst rating on their truth scale.

“The reality is that there were continued chemical-weapons attacks by Syria,” the Post wrote.

This was after another fact-checking outfit, PolitiFact, retracted its “mostly true” rating for a 2014 claim from then-Secretary of State John Kerry that “100 percent” of those weapons were removed from Syria.

RICE, OBAMA COLLEAGUES TAKE HEAT FOR SYRIA CLAIMS

Rice’s claim, however, was more recent. In January, she told NPR that the Obama administration was able to “find a solution” on Syria that didn’t require the use of force – and still dealt with the chemical weapons threat, using diplomacy.

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“We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile,” she claimed.

Then came last week’s attack that killed dozens and that the U.S. suspects involved sarin nerve gas. The strike prompted President Trump to launch missiles late last week against the base suspected of being used to carry out the attack.

Rice’s comments about the 2013 agreement to purge the Assad regime’s chemical weapons quickly were called into question, along with the claims of other Obama officials.

The Washington Post noted, “the Obama administration had a tendency to oversell what was accomplished, perhaps because Obama received so much criticism for not following through on an attack if Syria crossed what Obama had called ‘a red line.’”

“The reality is that there were continued chemical-weapons attacks by Syria — and that U.S. and international officials had good evidence that Syria had not been completely forthcoming in its declaration and possibly retained sarin and VX nerve agent,” the Post wrote.

Citing Rice’s exact words, the fact-check column ruled: “She did not explain that Syria’s declaration was believed to be incomplete and thus was not fully verified — and that the Syrian government still attacked citizens with chemical weapons not covered by the 2013 agreement. That tipped her wordsmithing toward a Four.”

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/04/10/rice-claim-on-syria-chemical-weapons-gets-four-pinocchios.html

Sebastian Gorka: Russia, Iran and Susan Rice said, “There are no chemical weapons in Syria” — “President Trump and the United States will not lead from behind.”

April 9, 2017

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 Trump and Gorka on 
the Fox News Hannity 
show in August 2016 

 President Donald Trump and Sebastian Gorka. CREDIT: FOX NEWS 

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Sebastian Gorka appeared on the Fox News morning porogram “Fox and Friends” on Sunday, April 9, 2017.

In discussing President Trump’s cruise missile strike on the Syrian airfield after the use of chemocal weapons, Dr. Gorka said, “Diplomacy without force to back it up is just worlds.”

He said, “President Obama said he would lead from behind, which is an oxymoron.”

“President Trump and the United States will not lead from behind.”

Dr. Gorka reminded the audience that, “Obama national security adviser Susan Rice said Syria had no chemical weapons. That was clearly wrong.”

 

.Image: Sebastian GorkaSebastian Gorka, center, talks with Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, left, before a meeting with President Donald Trump on cyber security at the White House in January. Martin H. Simon/Redux

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In January, Susan Rice Assured NPR the Obama Admin Removed Chemical Weapons From Syria

It seems the former national security adviser has a credibility problem.

Susan Rice in 2015 Photo credit: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta.

According to a recent headline from Reuters, “U.S. intelligence agencies suspect Assad did not turn over all chemical weapons stockpile.” The evidence of the recent chemical attack in Syria makes that declaration little more than stating the obvious. However, back in January in an in interview with NPR, Obama national security adviser Susan Rice was still touting the Obama administration’s success at removing chemical weapons in Syria:

We were able to find a solution that didn’t necessitate the use of force that actually removed the chemical weapons that were known from Syria, in a way that the use of force would never have accomplished. Our aim in contemplating the use of force following the use of chemical weapons in August of 2013 was not to intervene in the civil war, not to become involved in the combat between Assad and the opposition, but to deal with the threat of chemical weapons by virtue of the diplomacy that we did with Russia and with the Security Council. We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.

Read more:

http://www.weeklystandard.com/in-january-susan-rice-assured-npr-the-obama-admin-removed-chemical-weapons-from-syria/article/2007548

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Obama Administration Knew Syria Still Had Chemical Weapons, Despite Saying Otherwise

DNI James Clapper said as much last February.

Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster is announced as national security adviser, Feb. 20, 2017. Photo credit: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster delivered remarks in Florida today to give some background on the strikes against Syria Thursday. He made one curious comment that raises a lot of troubling questions:

And the one thing that I will tell you though, there was an effort to minimize—to minimize risk to third-country nationals at that airport—I think you read Russians from that—but that—and we took great pains to try to avoid that. Of course, in any kind of military operation, there are no guarantees. And then there were also measures put in place to avoid hitting what we believe is a storage of sarin gas, so that that would not be ignited and cause a hazard to civilians or anyone else.

Emphasis added. Now recall that John Kerry bragged on Charlie Rose in 2014 about the Obama administration cutting an historic deal that removed “100 percent of the declared chemical weapons” from Syria. I don’t know how much of a caveat the word “declared” constitutes, but as recently as January former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice was confidently announcing that the Obama administration had removed chemical weapons from Syria. (Suffice to say, it’s been a bad week for Rice’s credibility.)

Read more:

http://www.weeklystandard.com/obama-administration-knew-syria-still-had-chemical-weapons-despite-saying-otherwise/article/2007595

Related:

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad heads the plenary meeting of the central committee of the ruling al-Baath party, in Damascus in this handout photograph distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA July 8, 2013. REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad heads the plenary meeting of the central committee of the ruling al-Baath party, in Damascus in this handout photograph distributed by Syria’s national news agency SANA July 8, 2013.  Credit: Reuters/SANA/Handout via Reuters

 

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Kerry and Lavrov. John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov in 2013. They engineered a deal to remove all chemical weapons from Syria. AP photo

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White Helmet rescue workers try to find children buried in the wrechage of Aleppo by Russian and Syrian Bombing — after the Obama Adminstration withdrew from the Middle East.

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Related:

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  (“The President Blinked”: Why Obama Changed Course on the “Red Line” in Syria)

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United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, left, Secretary of State John Kerry, second from right, and National Advisor Susan Rice, right, listen while US President Barack Obama speaks during the 68th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters. (photo credit: AP/Seth Wenig)

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, left, Secretary of State John Kerry, second from right, and National Advisor Susan Rice, right, listen while US President Barack Obama speaks during the 68th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters. (photo credit: AP/Seth Wenig)

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GETTY IMAGES

Kerry: ‘Provisional agreement’ reached with Russia on cessation of hostilities in Syria
http://www.businessinsider.com/kerry-lavrov-agreement-syria-ceasefire-2016-2

 

kerry lavrov

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry react during a joint news conference after their meeting in Moscow, May 7, 2013.Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

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Could Russia-U.S. Deal on Syria Chemical Weapons Lead to a Non-Imperial, New Internationalism?
SEPTEMBER 16, 2013
https://www.democracynow.org/2013/9/16/could_russia_us_deal_on_syria

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US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, September 2013 (photo credit: AP/Keystone/Martial Trezzini)

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Secretary of State John Kerry, (r.), speaks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, (c.), in Geneva, Switzerland, in January, 2014. The pair will meet in New York Monday , when they will participate in a conference at the United Nations on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. LAURENT GILLIERON/EPA

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif before a meeting in Geneva January 14, 2015. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
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Should anyone believe Iran is telling us the truth about their nuclear weapons?
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U.S. Navy sailors held by Iran, January 2016

Tom Cotton: It’s ‘unusual’ for White House officials like Susan Rice to make unmasking requests

April 7, 2017
Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice: ‘I leaked nothing to nobody’
 Image result for susan rice, photos
Former White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice is battling claims that she mishandled classified information in requesting the identities of people connected to President Donald Trump’s transition team in raw intelligence reports.

Some Republicans have latched onto allegations about former National Security Adviser Susan Rice to bolster their narrative that President Barack Obama’s administration misused intelligence for political purposes.

A few media sources, most prominently Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake, have said Rice repeatedly asked to learn the names of unidentified American citizens who appeared in intelligence reports in connection to the Donald Trump campaign and transition. These reports are based on anonymous sources, and Rice has neither confirmed nor denied them.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said Congress should investigate because if the story is true, it’s strange that someone in Rice’s White House position would request for names to be unmasked.

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Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark

“You’re right that it’s not necessarily illegal,” Cotton said in an April 4 interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. “It is unusual, though. The White House doesn’t conduct criminal investigations. The White House doesn’t conduct counterintelligence investigations. The White House is a consumer of intelligence. Normally, those kind of unmasking requests would be done by the agencies responsible for those activities.”

However, experts in intelligence collection and classified information told us it’s normal for someone in such a high-up national security role to make unmasking requests, and it would be hard, though not impossible, to abuse the practice for political purposes.

“It’s not unusual at all,” said Joshua Rovner, chair of international politics and national security at Southern Methodist University and author of Fixing the Facts: National Security and the Politics of Intelligence.

What ‘unmasking’ is and how it works

We couldn’t find a way to quantify how often national security advisers or other White House officials make unmasking requests, but experts said it’s a routine, legitimate occurrence.

The FBI and NSA regularly produce reports for government customers. The customer could be another investigating agency, Congress, the Justice Department or the White House. If an American’s name appears in a piece of intelligence — for example, if agents intercept a conversation between two foreign nationals who mention an American friend in passing — those preparing the report generally“mask” the American’s name, replacing it with something like “U.S. Person.”

The recipient of the report might decide that in order to fully understand the intelligence, they need to know the “U.S. Person’s” identity. So they make a request for the name to be unmasked, and the agency that produced the report either approves or denies the request. The NSA approved 654 requests in 2015, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

It’s not just agencies conducting criminal or counterintelligence investigations that make the unmasking requests, as Cotton said. It’s anyone who consumes intelligence reports.

“The national security adviser, who is a consumer of the most selective and restricted intelligence products, would certainly be entitled to request unmasking in the course of his or her duties,” said Steven Aftergood, who directs the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy.

For example, a national security adviser might learn from an intelligence report that a foreign agent is trying to cultivate an unnamed U.S. official. They would need to know the official’s name in order to alert him or her in advance, or to get a full picture of the situation, Rovner said.

Unmasking for political purposes?

Implied in Cotton’s statement is that Rice may have made unmasking requests for political purposes. The idea is that an official could use unmasking requests to surreptitiously dig up information about a U.S. citizen, such as a political opponent, without a warrant to surveil them.

But experts said abusing the unmasking process would be difficult, in large part because the agency does the actual unmasking, not the requester.

The official who wants to abuse the process would have to get agency workers on board with her plan because they would have to make sure she receives reports about the American in question. They would also have to make sure that any unmasking request would be granted, said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty & National Security Program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, a civil liberties group.

“It’s certainly not an easy or direct route to spying on political opponents,” she said, adding that there are other provisions of surveillance laws that are far more susceptible to abuse.

Only a select group of high-up officials in the intelligence and national security communities have the authority to make or approve unmasking requests, and they have to do so while complying with an elaborate set of minimization guidelines, compliance procedures and documentation, said Susan Hennessey, a national security fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former NSA lawyer.

These procedures, along with the intelligence community’s extreme sensitivity to accusations of political abuse, likely deters intelligence officials from complying with illegitimate unmasking requests, Rovner said.

Hennessey added that the media reports about Rice are so inconsistent and vague that it’s not really possible to assess whether the unmasking requests in question (if they occurred) were legitimate.

But “I have not seen anything in the public record that indicates there is any kind of problem here,” she said.

Our ruling

Cotton said, “It is unusual” for a White House official like former National Security Adviser Susan Rice to make unmasking requests.

As the president’s top consultant on issues of national security, Rice and other national security advisers consume a large amount of intelligence. There are numerous legitimate reasons why Rice might ask an intelligence agency to reveal the identity of an unnamed person in an intelligence report.

It might not be an everyday occurrence, but it is not so “unusual” as to raise suspicion, as Cotton said. We rate Cotton’s claim False.

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“It is unusual” for a White House official like former National Security Adviser Susan Rice to make unmasking requests.

So much for President Steve Bannon: Did Jared and Ivanka orchestrate the downfall of Trump’s key adviser?

April 6, 2017

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With Jivanka’s rise and Bannon’s ouster from the National Security Council, maybe the apocalypse can be delayed

So much for President Steve Bannon: Did Jared and Ivanka orchestrate the downfall of Trump's key adviser?
(Credit: AP/Andrew Harrer/Evan Vucci/Gerald Herbert)

A week or so ago I noted that Jared Kushner, the son Donald Trump never had, seemed to be taking on a lot of new projects. Since then there has been a flurry of reporting on his burgeoning portfolio, including the news that Kushner is the administration’s new point man on China in anticipation of the important visit from Chinese leader Xi Jinping this week. But just as he weirdly decided to take a ski vacation during the administration’s most important legislative battle a couple of weeks ago, Kushner inexplicably decided to take a trip to Iraq this week with the chairman of the joint chiefs and Keith Schiller.

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Wait — who’s Keith Schiller? I can tell you:

View image on Twitter

Joining Jared Kushner in mtgs w/ Iraqi officials: @KeithSchiller45, a renowned Middle East expert (JK! he’s actually Trump’s ex-bodyguard).

Meanwhile, Trump has installed his daughter Ivanka in an official government position that allows her to participate in all the meetings with foreign leaders — the ones in which she’s already been participating since the transition. According to reports from the meetings, unlike her father the president of the United States, Ivanka even does some advance preparation. Foreign delegations are grateful to learn that someone in the president’s confidence can skim a briefing paper.

On Wednesday the White House announced that Steve Bannon, the president’s other right hand man, would be stepping down from his outrageously inappropriate membership as a principal on the National Security Council. Bannon tried to spin it as a normal event, even even the right’s designated distraction-goblin of the moment, Susan Rice. From the New York Times:

 

Video Here’s what Trump could mean for the nonprofit sector
 http://www.salon.com/2017/04/06/so-much-for-president-steve-bannon-did-jared-and-ivanka-orchestrate-the-downfall-of-trumps-key-adviser/

“Susan Rice operationalized the N.S.C. during the last administration,” Mr. Bannon said in a statement, referring to President Barack Obama’s national security adviser. “I was put on the N.S.C. with General [Michael] Flynn to ensure that it was de-operationalized. General [H.R.] McMaster has returned the N.S.C. to its proper function.”

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Mr. Bannon did not explain what he meant by “operationalized” or how his presence on the committee had ensured it would not be.

His allies put out a different story: He’d actually been put on the principals committee to keep an eye on Flynn, and now that the latter is gone it was no longer necessary. There was no explanation as to why this took so long: Flynn’s been gone for nearly two months. In any case, the Times also reported that Bannon had threatened to quit over the demotion, so all these self-serving explanations ring more than a little bit hollow.

Bannon had been running a shadow NSC called the Strategic Initiatives Group, described as an internal White House “think tank,” that had been put together as an alternative to the traditional structures within the executive branch. It was seen as a terrible management idea, giving a back channel to a president who has no idea what he’s doing and exacerbating his already chaotic decision making. Evidently, that project has also been tabled, supplanted by Kushner’s shiny new “Office of American Innovation.”

Bannon stepping away from a national security role is undoubtedly a big relief to the rest of the planet, since he is an apocalyptic fruitcake who believes in a theory called the “fourth turnings” in which history happens in four-stage cycles of awakening and crisis. He claims that previous cycles in America were the Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression and World War II, and he believes we’re now in another one that started with the bank bailout in 2008. As the Huffington Post reported:

In Bannon’s view, we are in the midst of an existential war, and everything is a part of that conflict. Treaties must be torn up, enemies named, culture changed. Global conflagration, should it occur, would only prove the theory correct. For Bannon, the Fourth Turning has arrived. The Grey Champion, a messianic strongman figure, may have already emerged. The apocalypse is now.

“What we are witnessing,” Bannon told The Washington Post … “is the birth of a new political order.”

It’s unknown how much Donald Trump  bought into this daft worldview, or if he even understood it. We do know that he considered Bannon one of his most important advisers. This is a recent relationship born of the excitement of the campaign and the thrill of winning, however, so it’s not surprising that Trump might turn on Bannon when the going got tough. Now that the administration is suffering one humiliating defeat and embarrassment after another — and blaming the previous president or Hillary Clinton or even the GOP Congress isn’t working — Trump’s circle is narrowing to the only people he’s ever truly trusted: his family.

This turn of events was foretold by the people who know Trump better than anyone: his biographers. The late journalist Wayne Barrett, who wrote “Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth,” predicted that Bannon wouldn’t last. As Barrett told the New Republic:

A guy like Steve Bannon …  I don’t know much about the guy, so I could be completely misunderstanding him, but I think that’s a guy Trump uses up quickly. That’ll be a body he steps over.

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Timothy O’Brien, who wrote “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” pointed out that Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani both lost favor for having high profiles. In that light, Bannon’s appearance on the cover of Time magazine may have sealed his fate. O’Brien told CNN’s Anderson Cooper:

Trump likes advocates and loyalists and people who advocate his viewpoint, but not people who get more air time and attention than he does. That’s been the kiss of death for anybody who is an adviser to him who’s not a family member.

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‘Daily Show’s’ Trevor Noah: Steve Bannon Is the ‘Real President,’ Not Trump

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/02/07/daily-show-s-trevor-noah-steve-bannon-is-the-real-president-not-trump.html

O’Brien also had the Kushner rise pegged in January, when he participated in a Politico roundtable of Trump biographers:

O’Brien: At the end of the day, the two most powerful people in his White House, other than him, are going to be Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and they’re going to have the final say on everything. And whatever Gary Cohn or Rex Tillerson or Gen. Mattis or Jeff Sessions or Steve Bannon has to say, it will all end up getting filtered through Javanka.

Michael Kruse: Did you just say “Javanka”?

O’Brien: Yeah. Other than those two, he won’t listen to anyone in a meaningful way, and he never has listened to anyone outside of his core group and family at the Trump Organization for decades, and that’s not going to change.

All the palace intrigue around this White House is so thick you never really know what’s happening or who has Trump’s ear. But all signs point to Javanka ordering the hit. The question now is: Who’s next?

 

Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

Susan Rice wasn’t the only White House official looking to ‘unmask’ Trump team figures – and Mike Flynn wasn’t the only one exposed

April 5, 2017
Former U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice asked intelligence agencies dozens of times to 'unmask' the names of Donald Trump associates that were redacted from raw intelligence reports – and she wasn't the only one

Former U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice asked intelligence agencies dozens of times to ‘unmask’ the names of Donald Trump associates that were redacted from raw intelligence reports – and she wasn’t the only one

  • Obama national security advisor Susan Rice is accused of repeatedly asking U.S. agencies to ‘unmask’ Trumpworld names from raw intelligence reports
  • A new report says Rice wasn’t the only one in the Obama White House to do this  
  • It’s not unusual for a high-ranking national security official to ask for the names of people ‘incidentally’ surveilled, in order to understand a report’s context
  • But the name of Rice’s successor Mike Flynn was subsequently leaked to the press – which constitutes a felony
  • The new report also says Flynn was just one of at least two Trump officials whose names were left exposed 

Former national security advisor Susan Rice wasn’t the only Obama administration official to request the ‘unmasking’ of members of President Donald Trump’s transition team – and her successor Mike Flynn was just one of at least two who were left exposed.

Flynn was forced out of his job after a transcript of an intercepted phone call was leaked to The Washington Post, detailing a conversation he had last year with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. – a discussion that reportedly included mention of rolling back U.S. sanctions on Moscow.

It’s not known who the second Trump transition official is, but The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday night that there were two – based on information from a Republican linked to the House Intelligence Committee.

‘The official said Ms. Rice had requested the unmasking of at least one transition official—not Mr. Flynn—who was part of multiple foreign conversations that weren’t related to Russia,’ the Journal reported.

And ‘Rice wasn’t the administration official who instigated Mr. Flynn’s unmasking.’ That puts at least one other Obama White House official in the picture.

Retired Gen. Mike Flynn (left), who served briefly as National Security Advisor before being forced out, wasn't the only Trump transition official whose name was 'unmasked' 

Retired Gen. Mike Flynn (left), who served briefly as National Security Advisor before being forced out, wasn’t the only Trump transition official whose name was ‘unmasked’

Rice forcefully denied on Tuesday that she purposely collected classified intelligence information about anyone associated with the Trump campaign or transition, and said any suspicion that she leaked names to the press was ridiculous.

‘The allegations that somehow Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes, that’s absolutely false,’ she said.

She used the same words – ‘absolutely false’ – to deny a report in The Daily Caller that she had requested intelligence information on Trump associates and compiled it into a spreadsheet.

‘No spreadsheet, no nothing of the sort,’ Rice said.

she blasted Trump’s tweeted claims on March 4 that Obama had authorized surveillance of him and his team before and after the November election.

‘There was no such collection, surveillance on Trump Tower or Trump individuals … and by that I mean directed by the White House or targeted at Trump individuals,’ she said.

Rice forcefully denied on Tuesday that she or anyone in the White House ever went out of their way to 'unmask' the identities of Trump or his associates, but The Wall Street Journal says at least two White House officials – and two from Trumpworld – are in the picture

Rice forcefully denied on Tuesday that she or anyone in the White House ever went out of their way to ‘unmask’ the identities of Trump or his associates, but The Wall Street Journal says at least two White House officials – and two from Trumpworld – are in the picture

White House officials, including any president, Rice added, ‘do not have the ability to order such collection.’

‘That can only come from the Justice Department through an established process. It never originates in the White House. So not only did it not occur, it didn’t occur and it could not have occurred – directed by the White House.’

WHAT IS UNMASKING? 

When U.S. intelligence services conduct surveillance of foreign targets, it’s possible that American citizens can be swept up in recorded conversations, intercepted emails or other surveillance.

That can happen when Americans who are not targets of an investigation are ‘incidentally’ captured talking to a target. it can also occur when targets merely mention them during a conversation or in a document.

When this happens, intelligence analysts routinely delete the Americans’ names and replace them with vague identifiers like ‘U.S. Person Number One’ or ‘Person A’ – masking their identity from other government officials who may look at reports.

Senior intelligence officials can request the ‘unmasking’ of those names under certain circumstances, but that creates a risk that the names will be leaked.

Rice said she was ‘surprised’ and ‘shocked’ by Trump’s accusation, saying ‘it had no basis in fact.’

‘And it wasn’t typical of the way presidents treat their predecessors, she said on MSNBC.

Host Andrea Mitchell asked her whether she ever intentionally ‘unmasked’ Trump-related names ‘in order to spy on them and expose them.

‘Absolutely not for any political purposes, to spy, expose, anything,’ Rice responded.

She also flatly denied leaking the name of Gen. Michael Flynn, her successor, to reporters.

‘I leaked nothing to nobody, and never have and never would,’ Rice insisted.

Tuesday on CNN, Rep. Adam Schiff – the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee – defended Rice and said she has been ‘a perennial target for the hard right.’

Schiff said there is ‘a strong desire by the White House that we lose our focus, that we not pursue the investigation of Russia, particularly as it might impact the Trump campaign.’

He also said continuing Rice-bashing ‘is appealing to the Breitbart crowd.’

Rice explained Tuesday that it isn’t uncommon for White House or cabinet officials to request the unmasking of names of U.S. citizens when they are incidentally snared in a spying net.

‘There were occasions when I would receive a report in which a U.S. person was referred to. Name not provided, just “U.S. person”,’ she recalled.

‘And sometimes in that context, in order to understand the importance of the report, and assess its significance, it was necessary to find out, or request the information as to who that U.S. official was.’

Rice said intelligence officials ‘can’t be passive consumers’ of information.

But ‘there’s no equivalence between so-called unmasking and leaking,’ she insisted.

There is not necessarily anything illegal or unusual about a national security adviser seeking to unmask names in raw reports, in order to fully understand the meaning of intercepted conversations.

But in this case those identities – including the name of then-National Security Advisor Mike Flynn – were subsequently leaked and made public. That is a federal felony.

Rice sat down with MSNBC reporter Andrea Mitchell for a noontime interview that the network hastily began promoting at 11:30 a.m.

Rice sat down with MSNBC reporter Andrea Mitchell for a noontime interview that the network hastily began promoting at 11:30 a.m.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said a half-hour before Rice's interview that some news outlets defending Rice have 'an invested angle and narrative'

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said a half-hour before Rice’s interview that some news outlets defending Rice have ‘an invested angle and narrative’

House Intelligence Committee ranking Democrat Adam Schiff said Susan Rice is 'a perennial target for the hard right'

House Intelligence Committee ranking Democrat Adam Schiff said Susan Rice is ‘a perennial target for the hard right’

President Trump retweeted a message from Internet newsman Matt Drudge on Tuesday, pointing to an article that claimed Rice ordered intelligence agencies to spy on him

President Trump retweeted a message from Internet newsman Matt Drudge on Tuesday, pointing to an article that claimed Rice ordered intelligence agencies to spy on him

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul appeared on Morning and demanded that Rice testify under oath before Congress

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul appeared on Morning and demanded that Rice testify under oath before Congress

Rice is being blamed for requesting that members of President Trump's teams names were unmasked in intelligence reports

Rice is being blamed for requesting that members of President Trump’s teams names were unmasked in intelligence reports

Rice, shown in the White House situation room (at left) listening to former president Barack Obama, is now at the center of the firestorm over whether they snooped on Trump during the 2016 election season

Rice, shown in the White House situation room (at left) listening to former president Barack Obama, is now at the center of the firestorm over whether they snooped on Trump during the 2016 election season

President Donald Trump claimed in a series of March 4 tweets that Obama had 'wiretapped' him before the November election; he later clarified that he was talking broadly about secret surveillance

President Donald Trump claimed in a series of March 4 tweets that Obama had ‘wiretapped’ him before the November election; he later clarified that he was talking broadly about secret surveillance

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes got a sneak peek last week at intelligence reports at the White House which are now believed to be security logs showing how often Rice asked to know which Trump officials were identified 'incidentally' in court-approved foreign snooping

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes got a sneak peek last week at intelligence reports at the White House which are now believed to be security logs showing how often Rice asked to know which Trump officials were identified ‘incidentally’ in court-approved foreign snooping

White House Press secretary Sean Spicer said Friday that unspecified documents seen by Nunes were uncovered 'in the normal course of business'

White House Press secretary Sean Spicer said Friday that unspecified documents seen by Nunes were uncovered ‘in the normal course of business’

Trump hasn't stopped tweeting about reports that support his March claims that he was surveilled for political purposes

Trump hasn’t stopped tweeting about reports that support his March claims that he was surveilled for political purposes