Barack Obama's former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, testified Monday before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism that the intelligence community "unmasked" 1,934 U.S. persons in 2016.
Clapper said the term "unmasking" is often misunderstood and that it is important to know the context.
"There are cases when, to fully understand the context of the communication that has been obtained or the threat that is posed, the consumer of that collected intelligence may ask the identity of the U.S. person be revealed," Clapper said.
"Such requests explain why the unmasking is necessary, and that explanation is conveyed back to the agency that collected the information," he continued. "It is then up to that agency whether to approve the request and to provide the identity."
Clapper added that the identity of the unmasked person being investigated is only revealed to the official who requested it, "not to a broader audience."
"This process is subject to oversight and reporting, and in the interest of transparency, my former office publishes a report on the statistics of how many U.S. persons' identities are unmasked based on collection that occurred under Section 702 of the FISA Amendment Act," Clapper said. "In 2016, that number was 1,934."
The number of U.S. persons "unmasked" in 2016 was first revealed in an intelligence report released last week, according to the Associated Press.
The identities of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents were found in 3,914 intelligence reports the NSA distributed last year, said the report released Tuesday. The annual report comes just weeks after President Donald Trump accused former President Barack Obama's national security adviser of possibly committing a crime when she asked government analysts to disclose the names of Trump associates documented in intelligence reports.
Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, has said that neither she nor other Obama officials used secret intelligence reports to spy on Trump associates for political purposes. Rice's official role would have given her the ability to request that names be revealed for national security purposes.
In interviews, Rice acknowledged that she sometimes asked for the names of Americans referenced in reports. She would not say whether she saw intelligence related to Trump associates or whether she asked for their identities, though she did say that reports related to Russia increased in the final months of the presidential election campaign.