HOUSE PANEL TARGETS SUSAN RICE
Justice Department rules limit supplying politically sensitive information to the White House, a review of attorney general guidelines for domestic FBI intelligence investigations has found.
A prohibition contained in the 2008 guidelines is a central focus of the ongoing House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence probe into Russian election meddling and unauthorized disclosures of sensitive U.S. intelligence communications intercepts.
The prohibitions in guidelines may explain why the FBI so far has refused to cooperate with the House committee’s investigation. Specifically, as of Wednesday, the FBI still has not responded to a request for documents that could explain how the White House was able to “unmask” the names of Americans incidentally spied on during a foreign electronic intelligence operation that ran from November to January — the same months the Trump transition team was working.
FBI spokesman Andrew Ames would not say why the bureau has not met the House committee’s document request. “The FBI will continue to work with our congressional oversight committees on their requests,” he told Inside the Ring.
According to congressional sources, the investigation is trying to determine if Susan
E. Rice, President Obama’s national security adviser, was involved in a clandestine political spying operation using foreign surveillance as cover.
Ms. Rice is expected to be a central witness in the coming weeks before committee investigators to explain the unmasking and wide dissemination of what the committee chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, has called improper electronic surveillance of Trump transition team officials.
Mr. Nunes has said dozens of electronic intelligence reports appear to have revealed that information on Americans was improperly and widely disseminated throughout government during the presidential transition.
The attorney general guidelines for the FBI state that “compromising information concerning domestic officials or political organizations, or information concerning activities of United States persons intended to affect the political process in the United States, may be disseminated to the White House only with the approval of the attorney general.”
The sharing of compromising FBI information also must be “based on a determination that such dissemination is needed for foreign intelligence purposes, for the purpose of protecting against international terrorism or other threats to the national security, or for the conduct of foreign affairs.”
The acting attorney general at the time was
Sally Q. Yates, and the House committee is expected to question her in addition to Ms. Rice about the FBI’s role in the intelligence-gathering controversy.
The guidelines also list six categories of sensitive information that can be routinely shared with the White House. They include information on foreign spy activities in the United States, signs of an imminent foreign attack or cyberattack, data on foreign leadership changes and information about foreign economic or political events that could have an impact on national security.
The FBI can also share information with the White House if the information is outlined in regularly published national intelligence requirements.
The guidelines were expanded in a bid to shift the FBI’s mission from being mainly a law enforcement agency to a domestic intelligence agency with both national security and law enforcement missions.
Ms. Rice has denied engaging in political spying on Donald Trump or his team and has denied leaking any classified information.
However, she suggested during an MSNBC interview on April 4 that she had requested the names of Americans redacted in foreign intelligence reports.
“There were occasions when I would receive a report in which a U.S. person was referred to, name not provided,” Ms. Rice said. “Sometimes in that context, in order to understand the significance of the report and assess its significance, it was necessary to request the information as to who that person was.”
The New York Times reported in March that the Obama administration officials were “scrambling” during the final days to collect and disseminate intelligence on any ties between Mr. Trump and his team and Russia, fearing that once in office the president would destroy compromising information gathered by U.S. spies.
The Obama administration also loosened rules on sharing raw electronic intelligence gathered by the National Security Agency on Dec. 15 — weeks before Mr. Obama left office. A 26-page directive signed by then-Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper has been criticized by privacy groups as posing new risks that Americans’ rights will be violated.
Former National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice is suspected of using foreign surveillance as a cover for clandestine political spying, sources say.