Who was Tucker Carlson trying to interview? Efforts led to NSA spying on him, claims Fox anchor
Carlson believes efforts to obtain an exclusive sit-down with one world leader caused NSA to spy on him, even though it is routine for journalists
Tucker Carlson had previously claimed that he was being spied on and his private communication was being monitored; he blamed the National Security Agency (NSA) for this. Despite the agency denying the allegations, Carlson has doubled down on his accusations against the agency. Another report emerged on July 7 that states the Fox News host believes his efforts to secure an interview with one world leader led to the NSA spying on him. Who you ask? According to insiders, it was Russian President Vladamir Putin.
The sit-down with Putin would have been a first for Carlson, coming at a historic time. President Joe Biden met Putin on June 16 in Geneva, Switzerland for a summit, where they exchanged a frosty handshake. That highly anticipated meeting came as the US-Russia relationship was increasingly poor, not helped by the fact Biden called Putin a "killer" in an interview. It's unclear what exactly the two leaders spoke about, but Biden reportedly pressed Putin about the constant cyberattacks on US infrastructure.
Amid these issues, an interview with the Russian president would certainly be massive for any journalist, so it is understandable Carlson was attempting to secure it. But his claims that those efforts led to NSA surveillance are dubious at best. Here's what we know about the situation.
Did efforts cause surveillance?
Carlson revealed to viewers on his show on June 28 that he had heard "from a whistleblower within the US government who reached out to warn us that the NSA … is monitoring our electronic communications and is planning to leak them in an attempt to take this show off the air." At the time, the NSA took a historic step of slamming Carlson with a statement. "This allegation is untrue," the agency said in a tweet. "Tucker Carlson has never been an intelligence target of the Agency, and the NSA has never had any plans to try and take his program off air," it added.
A statement from NSA regarding recent allegations: pic.twitter.com/vduE6l6YWg— NSA/CSS (@NSAGov) June 30, 2021
Axios reported in an exclusive scoop on July 7 that Carlson was attempting to contact Putin's office. Numerous sources told Axios that Carlson was working with US-based Kremlin intermediaries to secure the Putin interview, which is routine. Most journalists use unofficial back-channels to secure big interviews with leaders, even those that aren't US allies. If those efforts fail, they then turn to official channels. Putin has been interviewed by US journalists before, notably by Fox's own Chris Wallace in 2018 and NBC's Keir Simmons in 2021.
In response to the allegations, Fox backed Carlson in a statement to Axios. A spokesperson said, "We support any of our hosts pursuing interviews and stories free of government interference." When contacted, Carlson said, "As I've said repeatedly, because it's true, the NSA read my emails, and then leaked their contents. That's an outrage, as well as illegal." Axios claims that Carlson believes these efforts are what led to the spying, but there is no proof of that just yet. The NSA has not responded, so we cannot be sure that there is a link between the efforts and surveillance. However, Axios did say that it was likely, albeit inadvertently.
How did Carlson get picked up by NSA?
The NSA has not outright denied that Carlson was spied on, it merely denied he was a target. The agency routinely monitors foreign agents and nationals, so it is likely that is how Carlon's communications got picked up. There are a few ways the NSA could have indirectly known about Carlon's efforts to contact Putin.
One is if the people Carlson was speaking to were foreign nationals or on foreign soil at the time of the communications. If so, they would automatically become targets for the NSA. It is possible that when monitoring these people, their communications with Carlson were picked up. However, Axios noted, "In that scenario, Carlson's identity would have been masked in any intelligence reports. In order to know that the texts and emails were Carlson's, a U.S. government official would likely have to request his identity be unmasked."
The second situation is that the NSA was monitoring the communications of those in the Kremlin when it came across Carlson's request. In that scenario, it is unlikely Carlson's emails were directly involved, rather it would be that of the Kremlin discussing his request. Even in this situation, Carlson's identity would have been masked.
The third and the least likely scenario is if the NSA obtained an order from the court to surveil Carlson. As Axios noted, there is little reason to do so, since Carlson is a journalist going about his routine work. As we have said, he isn't the first to want an interview with Putin and is not likely to be the last. There is also no reason for the NSA to leak his communications, even if it was scooped up. There's still a lot we don't know yet, so it is hard to say what exactly happened and why. However, as Axios noted, it is very unlikely that Carlson was targeted solely for attempting to contact Putin.