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Report: Obama official 'unmasked' Americans at an alarming rate in 2016

Former Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power is said to have "unmasked" U.S. citizens in government surveillance to an alarming degree in 2016. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A report from Fox News says that former Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power "unmasked" Americans in U.S. intelligence collection at an alarming rate.

What is 'unmasking'?

Unmasking is the name for the process of uncovering the identities of U.S. citizens that are "incidentally collected" during surveillance of foreign actors by U.S. intelligence agencies.

What did Ambassador Power do?

According to anonymous sources speaking to Fox News, during the last months of the Obama administration, former Ambassador Power requested the "unmasking" of U.S. citizens at a rate of nearly one per day. Two anonymous sources said she requested 260 "unmaskings" at the end of 2016.

What does this mean?

Just the act of unmasking does not mean there was any malfeasance on the part of Power, but the rate at which she made these requests is leading some conclude that she might have been doing so for the sake of political leverage and not for national security purposes.

What did Power say about this report?

Fox News says Power's spokesperson had no comment on the report, but she had earlier released a statement denying any allegations that she had leaked classified information related to unmaskings.

"While serving as our Permanent Representative to the United Nations," the statement read, "Ambassador Power was also a member of the National Security Council responsible for advising the President on the full-range of threats confronting the United States. Any insinuation that Ambassador Power was involved in leaking classified information is absolutely false."

How can I know if this report is true?

Ostensibly, when special counsel Robert Mueller finishes his investigation into Russian election interference and alleged collusion with President Donald Trump's campaign, some answers about "unmasking" might be revealed to the public. Other investigations into the matter are being conducted by several congressional committees as well.

Why does this matter to me?

If right-wing speculation is correct, members of the Obama administration illegally used unmasking in order to further their political interests, which could result in criminal charges. On the other hand, if left-wing speculation is correct, the unmaskings were properly used to uncover evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign in 2016 and the Russian government, which might also result in criminal charges.

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