A recent article on Politico mentions a list of names from the Obama administration that was recently sent to Republican senators:

Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell on Wednesday sent top Republican senators a list of former senior Obama administration officials who might have been involved in efforts that “unmasked” former national security adviser Michael Flynn — including former Vice President Joe Biden.

What exactly does "unmasking" entail? I'm asking specifically with regard to Lieutenant General Michael Flynn being the object of many unmasking requests made by senior officials in the Obama administration.

  • 4
    The word "unmasking" is quoted. Please specify who is being quoted. Context for the quote would help also.
    – agc
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 3:50
  • 1
    @agc Unmasking refers to an internal process by the US Federal Government. It is likely not a direct quote of anything in particular. See the below answer for more details (I guess you already did, given that you edited the answer below. Nvm then).
    – user29681
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 6:32
  • 1
    @agc My interpretation for the "quotes" is to signify the word OP is asking a more concrete definition for in this context. I've voted to re-open since the subject itself is pretty topical and I don't think answerers should have a problem understanding what is being asked. But I do agree adding a citation describing current events would improve the question when Googlers from the future stumble here.
    – user5155
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 11:39
  • 3
    When I first read the title, I thought this was about a new conspiracy theory I hadn't heard of. The lack of any context in the question body doesn't help. It wasn't until I read the answer below that I realized this question might fit on politics.stackexchange. But before I can vote to re-open, the question should add more details to address this.
    – BurnsBA
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 12:17
  • Just FYI, the Flynn investigation was part of the Mueller probe. It was unrelated to Trump's impeachment (which was over Ukraine aid)
    – Machavity
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 15:32

2 Answers 2


According to Stefan Becket of CBS News:

The names of U.S. citizens who are caught on intercepts of foreign officials' communications are typically concealed in intelligence reports, but certain senior officials can request to learn their identities to better understand the information, a process known as "unmasking." According to an annual transparency report released by ODNI in April, the identities of 10,012 U.S. persons were unmasked by the NSA in response to specific requests in 2019.

According to Matt Zapotosky, Ellen Nakashima and Shane Harris of the Washington Post:

Unmasking is a routine practice used to identify a U.S. person who is anonymously referred to in an intelligence document, meant to help government officials better understand what they are reading. But conservatives have long seized on Flynn’s unmasking to imply he was treated unfairly by U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials.

(The links within the two paragraphs were in the original articles and have been copied here for completeness)

  • I guess it rolls off the tongue better than "un-redacting." Commented May 14, 2020 at 17:03
  • 1
    @agc those were quotes. I'm not sure it's OK to change the wording like that.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 18:18
  • 2
    @PoloHoleSet - Redacting implies that the information was just blotted out. Substituting different information (the anonymous identifer) is closer to masking, but I'd probably choose "obscuring". At least in how I use those words - others may disagree.
    – Bobson
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 18:33
  • @Bobson - ah, very good. I was completely unaware of that distinction. Thanks! Commented May 14, 2020 at 20:19

Side answer: Unmasking doesn't refer to the Flynn investigation since his name was never masked.

Washington Post source

Additional comments:

Never mind that there was ample evidence that the Grenell list has nothing to do with the Kislyak intercept report. Not the least of this evidence was that top FBI and DOJ officials had already testified that the Kislyak report was an FBI product (Grenell’s list was prepared through the NSA) and that in their recollections, Flynn’s name wasn’t concealed, so no “unmasking” was required.

TPM source

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .