The name of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn wasn’t masked to protect his identity in transcripts of his calls with a Russian ambassador that were distributed or revealed to President Barack Obama and a number of top officials in his administration, recently released documents indicate.
Information about the calls, including Flynn’s name, was leaked to the media within days, setting off a series of events that cost the Army veteran his job, millions of dollars, and several years of his life.
In addition, Obama administration officials made dozens of unmasking requests for intelligence reports that involved Flynn’s identity between the 2016 election day and the first days of President Donald Trump’s administration, the documents (pdf) show.
The practice of masking refers to replacing the names of Americans in foreign intelligence reports with generic standins to protect their identity. Senior officials involved in intelligence and national security have the power to request that the National Security Agency (NSA) reveal the masked names for various reasons, such as when it’s necessary to understand the intelligence.
Richard Grenell, the acting director of national intelligence, released on May 13 a list of officials who made unmasking requests between Nov. 8, 2016 and Jan. 31, 2017, that may have revealed Flynn’s identity.
There were 49 such requests, but none of them happened between Dec. 29, 2016, and Jan. 4, 2017.
Those dates are important, because it was on Dec. 29, 2016, that Flynn spoke over the phone with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and asked for Moscow to not escalate the situation after Obama imposed new sanctions on Russia.
Jan. 4 was the date the FBI was to shutter its counterintelligence investigation of Flynn because it established no “derogatory” information about him. Then-FBI head of counterintelligence operations Peter Strzok scrambled that day to keep the probe open, however. Then-FBI Director James Comey later told the House Intelligence Committee that the probe was kept open after the FBI obtained Flynn’s calls with Kislyak regarding the sanctions.
“Our people judged was appropriate, for reasons that I hope are obvious, to have Mr. Flynn’s name unmasked [in the transcripts],” he said (pdf).