The NSA denied ‘targeting’ Tucker Carlson, but did not deny reading his emails. The NSA also did not deny that it may have accessed his communications through ‘incidental collection.’
I laughed when Fox News host Tucker Carlson said a National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower told him that agency was monitoring his emails to leak them in an attempt to take his show off the air. From my 19 years as a CIA analyst and five years with House Intelligence Committee staff, I found this impossible to believe, for three reasons.
First, I believed NSA’s huge and lumbering bureaucracy would never agree to such a flagrant violation of the agency’s foreign intelligence charter to spy on a leading conservative American journalist. Even if most NSA officials and analysts dislike Carlson, I assumed they would view violating NSA rules and the law to monitor him as too risky, since a leak was certain given how extremely controversial such an action would be and the large number of NSA personnel who would know about it.
Second, the NSA spying on Carlson would have to be approved at the highest level of the Biden administration—probably by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. I believed Sullivan and other senior Biden officials were too risk-adverse to order NSA surveillance of Carlson. Third, I have little regard for high-profile NSA whistleblowers, too many of whom have been disgruntled former employees pursuing personal agendas.
I therefore dismissed Carlson’s claim that the NSA was reading his emails. Then I saw this extraordinary denial from the NSA:
Carlson rejected this explanation by calling it “an infuriating, dishonest formal statement.” He added, “Last night on this show, we made a very straightforward claim: NSA has read my private emails without my permission. Period,” Carlson stated. “That’s what we said. Tonight’s statement from the NSA does not deny that.”
In a tweet, Rep. Justin Amash, R-Michigan, a longtime critic of NSA, also sharply criticized NSA’s response, saying: “Don’t know whether NSA is *specifically* spying on Carlson, but this statement is worthless. 1st, it denies a compound allegation re ‘monitoring’ *and* taking show off air. 2nd, it says he’s not a ‘target,’ which is a term of art. Real danger is so-called ‘incidental collection.’”