The National Security Agency’s (NSA) inspector general said Tuesday that his office will look into claims by Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson that his identity was “unmasked” and illegally leaked to the media in retaliation for trying to arrange an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The statement from watchdog Robert Storch said his office was reviewing “recent allegations that the NSA improperly targeted the communications of a member of the U.S. news media.”
Carlson initially accused the NSA June 28 of monitoring his emails in an effort to find material that would force Fox to take his top-rated show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” off the air. That claim prompted a rare public denial from the agency, which stated that Carlson “has never been an intelligence target”.
On July 7, Axios reported that Carlson had reached out to “US-based Kremlin intermediaries” about a potential sitdown with Putin. Carlson confirmed the story on his program that night, claiming he had reached out to “a couple of people” he thought could help fix the interview. The host claimed he had told no one other than his show’s executive producer that he had sent the emails.
“I wasn’t embarrassed about trying to interview Putin,” Carlson said at the time. “He’s obviously newsworthy. I’m an American citizen, I can interview anyone I want, and I plan to. But still, in this case, I decided to keep it quiet. I figured that any kind of publicity would rattle the Russians and make the interview less likely to happen. But the Biden administration found out anyway by reading my emails.”
The host further claimed that a “whistleblower” had told him that the NSA planned to leak his emails to media outlets in an effort to “paint me as a disloyal American, a Russian operative (I’ve been called that before), a stooge of the Kremlin, a traitor doing the bidding of a foreign adversary.”
Late last month, cybersecurity news site The Record reported that an internal NSA investigation found Carlson’s name was revealed, or “unmasked,” after it was mentioned in “communications between two parties” that were under surveillance. The report noted that the NSA notified both the House and Senate intelligence committees of the internal probe’s findings.
The unmasking of a US citizen’s name can be requested by intelligence community officials with proper security clearance, provided they have a good reason. If the unmasking request is approved, the name is shared with the person who requested it. Leaking “unmasked” names to the media or otherwise making them public is illegal.
Storch said Tuesday that his office would examine “NSA’s compliance with applicable legal authorities and Agency policies and procedures regarding collection, analysis, reporting, and dissemination activities, including unmasking procedures, and whether any such actions were based upon improper considerations.”
“We are gratified to learn the NSA’s egregious surveillance of Tucker Carlson will now be independently investigated,” a Fox News spokesperson said. “As we have said, for the NSA to unmask Tucker Carlson or any journalist attempting to secure a newsworthy interview is entirely unacceptable and raises serious questions about their activities as well as their original denial, which was wildly misleading.”
The inspector general’s office can open an investigation on its own or in response to a request from lawmakers or others who have reported alleged wrongdoing.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that the review “is an important step toward ensuring public confidence. It is important that this review is as transparent as possible so it doesn’t fuel further public suspicion and distrust.”
Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, called Carlson’s allegations the “latest right-wing attempt to damage our security services.”
“People like Tucker Carlson can’t help themselves,” Himes said. “They’re badly hurting our intelligence community with outright lies.”
More than 9,000 people’s identities were “unmasked” in 2020, according to an intelligence review published earlier this year.
With Post wires