Popular Fox TV host Tucker Carlson maintains the National Security Agency was spying on him. The NSA claims his assertion is patently untrue. Meanwhile, the media is lining up along partisan lines – some chiding and taunting Carlson openly on Twitter posts. What the hell is going on here? Where does the truth lie, and why does it matter to the rest of us regular folk?
Weaponizing Intelligence Is Not So Smart
In a nutshell, Carlson revealed he was trying to score an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin when things began to go sideways. This is not a crime, as Carlson correctly intoned: “I wasn’t embarrassed about trying to interview Putin. He’s obviously newsworthy. I’m an American citizen, I can interview anyone I want, and I plan to.”
But things got dicey when a whistleblower informed Carlson that the NSA planned to sprinkle his emails around various media outlets. The purpose, asserted Carlson, was 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.”
The National Security Agency is not supposed to be in the business of publicizing the emails of American citizens – no matter how well-known. So, when it comes across private correspondence in the course of collecting intelligence information, the names of involved individuals are redacted for obvious reasons. Not removing these names is commonly known as “unmasking.” On his highly rated Fox program Mr. Carlson stated:
“By law, I should have been identified internally merely as a U.S. journalist, or American journalist. That’s the law, but that’s not how I was identified, I was identified by name. I was unmasked.”
Usually, the NSA plays oopsie when caught with its hand in the cookie jar. This time it took the unusual step of issuing a statement: “On June 28, 2021, Tucker Carlson alleged that the National Security Agency has been ‘monitoring our electronic communications and is planning to leak them in an attempt to take this show off the air.’ This allegation is untrue.” The agency further stated that Carlson has “never been an intelligence target.”
Conservatives have made the case that unmasking Carlson could undoubtedly be seen as targeting him for political purposes. Former acting National Intelligence Director Richard Grenell was one of those not buying the NSA denial. “Democrats are weaponizing intel, like they weaponized the IRS and DOJ,” he tweeted. Grenell went on to point the finger at House Rep. and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA).
Carlson’s critics soon came to the fore and cried foul. “I want to know: Why isn’t Fox supporting Tucker’s claims?” tweeted CNN’s Brian Stelter. Jonah Goldberg urged Carlson to stop whining with “Spoiler alert: the NSA isn’t spying on Tucker.” However, the comment that proves Carlson’s point came from former FBI agent James Harris, who posted the following on Twitter:
“Dear @Tucker Carlson let me tell you something I know from experience: if the NSA was reading your texts or emails (unlikely), there are ONLY two possibilities.
1) The person you are emailing/texting is an agent of a foreign power – or –
2) A FISA court has determined YOU are”
Harris’ accusation precisely mirrors Carlson’s justifiable concern – that the NSA was trying to paint him as a Russian operative or worse – a traitor. Unleashing U.S. intelligence agencies upon individual Americans is alarming. Even if the NSA could make the case that Carlson’s emails were merely a by-product of its routine activities involving Russian operatives, why wouldn’t it take extra care to ensure the Fox TV host’s name was nowhere to be found? That is the minimum amount of protection Carlson should have been afforded. That he was not is troublesome at best – and illegal at worst.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.