Flynn's name was never 'masked' in FBI report on phone call with Russian

Republicans have questioned why Michael Flynn's name was "unmasked," or revealed in an FBI report, but it turns out it was never masked in the first place.
Image: Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn boards an elevator at Trump Tower
Michael Flynn boards an elevator at Trump Tower in New York on Jan. 4, 2017.Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

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By Ken Dilanian

WASHINGTON — In a blow to GOP efforts to create a cloud of scandal around so-called unmasking, two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News that Michael Flynn's name was never redacted from an FBI intelligence report about his phone conversation with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

Flynn, President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, has admitted lying to the FBI about his phone call with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador at the time.

The lack of masking was first reported in The Washington Post.

Flynn's name was unmasked in other intelligence reports about other conversations he had with foreigners, but not the one about the Dec. 29, 2016, phone call that got him in legal trouble, the sources said.

That call with Kislyak was monitored by the FBI under a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant covering Kislyak, as is standard practice, current and former officials have said. The FBI monitors many former ambassadors and foreign officials working in the U.S. as part of routine counterintelligence inquiries.

A former senior intelligence official said FBI reports based on FISA collection, unlike reports from the National Security Agency, generally do not "mask" the names of Americans because the FBI is a domestic law enforcement agency and the conduct of Americans is part of its purview.

Unmasking is a routine practice by which senior officials with security clearances request to learn the names of Americans who are overheard speaking to foreigners if the names are deemed important to understanding the intelligence. The names are otherwise usually redacted, or "masked."

Trump's acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell, and Attorney General William Barr declassified a list of Obama administration officials who unmasked the names of Americans speaking to foreigners in NSA-generated reports as part of their review of information on Russian election interference. Grenell turned it over to Senate Republicans, who are investigating.

Republicans have suggested that the unmasking was an improper effort to implicate Trump allies in a Russian election interference conspiracy, while former Obama administration officials say they had ample reason to want to scour the intelligence, given the serious and unprecedented nature of the covert Russian operation.

CORRECTION (May 21, 2020, 11 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated Michael Flynn's role at the time of his telephone call with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. Flynn was not President Donald Trump's national security adviser at the time of the call, which occurred in December 2016. He became national security adviser in January 2017.