(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the U.S. Department of State for records of communications about requests by former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power to “unmask” the identities of U.S. citizens whose names appear in intelligence reports concerning Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:20-cv-01729)). Unmasking refers generally to the practice of political appointees obtaining the identities of American citizens referenced in intelligence surveillance of foreign nationals.
The suit was filed after the Justice Department failed to respond to a May 29, 2019, FOIA request seeking:
- All requests for information submitted to any Intelligence Community member agency by former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power concerning:
- Any actual or suspected effort by the Russian government or any individual acting on behalf of the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election.
- The alleged hacking of computer systems utilized by the Democratic National Committee and/or the Clinton presidential campaign.
- Any actual or suspected communication between any member of the Trump presidential campaign or transition team and any official or employee of the Russian government or any individual acting on behalf of the Russian government.
- The identities of U.S. citizens associated with the Trump presidential campaign or transition team who were identified pursuant to intelligence collection activities.
- All records or responses received by former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and/or any representative of United States Mission to the United Nations in response to any request described in part 1 of this request.
- All records of communication between any representative of any Intelligence Community member agency and former United States Ambassador to the United Nation Samantha Power and/or any representative of the United States Mission to the United Nations concerning any request described in part 1 of this request.
The FOIA request and this subsequent lawsuit were filed after a similar 2018 Judicial Watch lawsuit filed in 2018 (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of State (No. 18-0300)), which derived from an October 31, 2017 FOIA request, was closed on March 3, 2019, when the court upheld the Department of State’s response that it need not disclose whether or not responsive records existed for national security reasons. This new Judicial Watch lawsuit argues the State Department’s earlier Glomar response (that it could neither confirm nor deny whether records existed) was no longer sustainable:
On May 13, 2020, the Director of National Intelligence released a newly declassified memorandum and accompanying list identifying officials who submitted requests to the National Security Agency (“NSA”) to “unmask” the identity of former National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn in NSA foreign intelligence reports. The list demonstrates that, between November 30, 2016 and January 11, 2017, Ambassador Power submitted seven requests to “unmask” Flynn’s identity in such NSA foreign intelligence reports and that all seven requests were approved.
“The entire world now knows the Obama administration went on an unprecedented fishing expedition which involved unmasking General Flynn but almost certainly others tied to the Trump campaign, including the President and his family,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “For almost three years, the State Department has been stonewalling our request for information for this basic Obamagate information. We hope the court tears down this stonewall around the worst corruption scandal in American history.”
Judicial Watch argues that at least some of Ambassador Power’ unmasking requests likely concerned intelligence reports about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and therefore relate to the subject matter of Judicial Watch’s May 29, 2019 FOIA request.
There is a long history related to Samantha Power’s and “unmasking” activities that lend credence to this argument:
· In 2017, it was reported that Power unmasked over 260 persons in her last year as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in an attempt to uncover associates of President Trump. She “was ‘unmasking’ at such a rapid pace in the final months of the Obama administration that she averaged more than one request for every working day in 2016,” even seeking “information in the days leading up to President Trump’s inauguration.”
· On October 13, 2017, Power testified behind closed doors about this matter to the House Intelligence Committee. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, who also sits on the Intelligence Committee, stated that “Her testimony is they [the unmasking requests] may be under my name, but I did not make those requests.”
· In 2019, Power’s political bias came into question because of her harsh comments about President Trump found in her official government emails.
· In May of this year, Power’s name appears on the unmasking list for General Flynn seven times, even though she testified under oath before Congress that she had “no recollection” of ever making such a request.
Reuters staff had by now spoken to 14 witnesses in al-Amin. All of them said they were unaware of any firefight that might have prompted the helicopter strike.
Yates recalls: “The words that kept forming on my lips were ‘cold-blooded murder’.”
The Iraqi staff at Reuters, meanwhile, were concerned that the bureau was too soft on the US military. “But I could only write what we could establish and the US military was insisting Saeed and Namir were killed during a clash,” Yates says.
The meeting that put him on a path of destructive, paralysing – eventually suicidal – guilt and blame “that basically f**ked me up for the next 10 years”, leaving him in a state of “moral injury”, happened at US military headquarters in the Green Zone on 25 July.
A "fatal blow" will have been dealt to Iraqi government control if Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi does not catch those who ordered the killing of scholar Husham Al Hashimi, experts said.
The Iraqi political and security expert was shot dead at point-blank range by unknown assailants as he parked his car outside his house on July 7.
Mr Al Kadhimi pledged to hold a transparent investigation into the killing and said no one was above the law.
A week has passed and the government has not announced any developments.
Toby Dodge, an Iraq expert and friend of Al Hashimi, said failure to bring to justice those responsible for his assassination would be a challenge to the state’s authority.
Four journalists who had been released described being rounded up well after they had left a protest at Baghdad's Tahrir Square. They said they were handcuffed, blindfolded, beaten and threatened with execution by soldiers from an army intelligence unit.
"It was like they were dealing with a bunch of al-Qaeda operatives, not a group of journalists," said Hussam al-Ssairi, a journalist and poet, who was among a group and described seeing hundreds of protesters in black hoods at the detention facility. "Yesterday was like a test, like a picture of the new democracy in Iraq."
A picture of the new democracy in Iraq, indeed. And now one of the four is dead. But back to that roundup, from the February 28th snapshot:
["]During a news conference held on Sunday, four journalists -- Hussam Saraie of Al-Sabah Al-Jadid newspaper, Ali Abdul Sada of the Al-Mada daily, Ali al-Mussawi of Sabah newspaper and Hadi al-Mehdi of Demozee radio -- reported being handcuffed, blindfolded, beaten and threatened by security forces. They also claimed they were held in custody for nine hours and forced to sign a document, the contents of which were not revealed to them.
Aswat al Iraq news agency reported that the journalists will file a court case against the executive authority in response to the alleged violations of their civil rights.
This episode is the latest in a series of repressive measures adopted by security forces in order to stifle media reports about the current political and social
Reporters Without Borders roundly condemns the well-known journalist Hadi Al-Mahdi's murder in Baghdad today, on the eve of nationwide protests that he supported. His body was found at around 7 p.m. in his home in the central district of Al-Karada. He had been shot twice in the head. There can be no doubt that his murder was politically motivated.
Offering its sincere condolences to his family, friends and colleagues, Reporters Without Borders urges the authorities to quickly investigate this murder and to assign all the necessary resources to ensure that those responsible are identified and brought to justice. This crime cannot go unpunished.
Aged 44, a Shiite and married to a Kurd, Mahdi hosted a talk show called "To whoever listens" on Radio Demozy (104,01 FM). His irreverence, his well-observed criticism that spared no one, neither the prime minister nor his detractors, and his readiness to tackle subjects ranging from corruption to the deplorable state of the Iraqi educational system made it one of the most popular talk shows in Baghdad.
It was clear from the messages that Mahdi had sent to relatives that he knew he was in danger. He had received many warnings and had told friends two days ago that something terrible could happen (http://alalemya.com/alalemya_news/0_2011_5_/11_/11_9_1/8-9/hadi-al-mahdi.html). But he was determined to tough it out, regardless of the risks.
After covering a demonstration in Baghdad's Tahrir Square on 25 February, he and three fellow journalists were arrested, threatened and beaten.
Shortly after graduating from Baghdad's Academy of Fine Arts in 1989, Mahdi fled to Syria and then to Sweden and did not return until 2007, after nearly a decade in exile. He began hosting "To whoever listens" for Radio Demozy, an independent station, a year later. (A New York Times profile of Mahdi)
He was the seventh Iraqi journalist to be murdered since the start of 2011 and the 12th since the United States announced the withdrawal of its combat troops in August 2010.
Mahdi's murder comes exactly a month after the Iraqi parliament adopted a law on the protection of journalists on 9 August.
Thousands of people travelled from several southern Iraqi provinces to Baghdad in the early hours of Sunday morning, protesting an end to monthly, government-allocated compensation as part of an economic reform package announced by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
“They fired on us upon direct orders from Kadhimi and killed two of us,” protester spokesperson Sheikh Amer Shalan Rafawi told Rudaw.