Tucker Carlson just totally backtracked on his bombshell NSA claim — while pretending he was right all along

Tucker Carlson just totally backtracked on his bombshell NSA claim — while pretending he was right all along
Tucker Carlson // Fox News
Tucker Carlson's story about the NSA spying on him is filled with holes

Last month, Fox News host Tucker Carlson dropped a bombshell allegation that the NSA had been intentionally spying on his communications in order to find dirt, embarrass him, and get his show kicked off the air. But on Wednesday night, the host's latest comments on the allegation reveal that he has completely backtracked from these explosive allegations, even as he tried to act as though he had been right all along.

When he first made the claim, he said the NSA was "monitoring our electronic communications and is planning to leak them in an attempt to take this show off the air." He added with confidence: "We have confirmed that." He claimed a whistleblower revealed this information.

Later, it was reported that Carlson has been seeking an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which the Fox News host then confirmed. Some observers, including me, speculated that this could provide a non-sinister explanation for NSA's actions that prompted Carlson's overreaction and misinterpretation. NSA routinely and legally monitors the communications of foreign diplomats and officials, and if Carlson made contact with these individuals, it would be predictable and non-scandalous that U.S. intelligence would intercept them.

It turns out, however, that the explanation is even more mundane than that, according to a recent report from The Record. It found that Tucker Carlson's communications weren't intercepted at all. Instead, Carlson's name was merely mentioned in the discussions of other individuals who were monitored:

The NSA has found no evidence to support Tucker Carlson's accusations that the agency had been spying on him in an effort to knock his show off the air, two people familiar with the matter told The Record.

An examination by the spy agency, prompted by congressional inquiries, found that the Fox News host's communications were not targeted — as the NSA has previously stated publicly — nor intercepted through so-called "incidental collection," where the U.S. government sometimes obtains the emails or phone calls of Americans in contact with a foreign target under surveillance, according to these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Correspondence between intelligence agencies and oversight authorities are conducted through classified means.

Instead, the nation's top electronic spy agency found that Carlson was mentioned in communications between third parties and his name was subsequently revealed through "unmasking," a process in which relevant government officials can request the identities of American citizens in intelligence reports to be divulged provided there is an official reason, such as helping them make sense of the intelligence documents they are reviewing.

This completely undercuts Carlson's original allegations of wrongdoing, which he made without qualification. But on Wednesday night, Carlson acted as though the report confirmed his outrageous claims:

"A media outlet called The Record, which is owned by a cybersecurity company, recently published a story about the NSA's monitoring of this show, effectively admitting that it happened," he said. "Our identity, The Record said, was included in an intel intercept and then 'unmasked.' The Record didn't explain how that would be legal. But it happened, as we said it did."

Carlson's claim is only sensible if "monitoring this show" means "heard someone else talk about this show." Which, of course, it doesn't. Carlson was lying through his teeth, and he surely knows it. He had confidently asserted that the NSA was reading his emails.

With his claims debunked, he tried to distract the viewers' attention by suggesting there's something scandalous about "unmasking." There isn't. Unmasking is the legal, official process government recipients of intelligence documents go through to find out an identity that has been concealed for the individual's privacy. The fact that an unmasking request was made confirms that steps were taken to properly conceal Carlson's identity in the first instance. But it's appropriate and ordinary for recipients of intelligence to request an unmasking if they feel it will help them better understand the intelligence. It's conceivable someone could have asked for Carlson's name to be unmasked for an improper reason, but the standard is low, and there's no reason to believe there was anything inappropriate about it. And since the whole point of making an unmasking request is that the person's identity is unknown, this process couldn't be used to target an individual such as Carlson on purpose.

Carlson later spoke with Glenn Greenwald about the incident, who didn't even demonstrate a basic understanding of the unmasking process. Carlson said the NSA: "Spread to news outlets that I was talking to Russians, in an effort to discredit and then control me. Of course. That's the point."

But this just isn't true. There's nothing scandalous about someone in Carlson's positions seeking an interview with Vladimir Putin — other network reporters have done it. So why would anyone try to embarrass him with this information? It doesn't make sense. And there were never any news reports trying to drum up scandal about Carlson talking to Russians — there was never any effort to "control" him. Indeed, his privacy was never violated at all, even for a legal purpose. This is just a persecution fantasy he built up, and as it falls apart in front of him, he's still lying to his audience to convince them it's true.

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