Born in Ireland in September 1970, Samantha Power immigrated to the United States with her family in 1979. After graduating from Yale University, she worked as a journalist from 1993 to 1996, covering the Yugoslav wars for U.S. News & World Report, The Boston Globe, The Economist, and The New Republic.
Power then attended Harvard Law School, earning her Juris Doctorate in 1999. She is currently the Anna Lindh Professor of Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, where she is also affiliated with the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.
Power has a long record of antipathy towards Israel. In 2001 she attended the United Nations’ World Conference Against Racism (in Durban, South Africa), even after the U.S. had withdrawn most of its diplomatic participation once it became apparent that the gathering would give prominence to anti-American, anti-Israel, and anti-Semitic perspectives.
Just months later, during a 2002 interview with Harry Kreisler, director of the Institute for International Studies at UC Berkeley, Power said that even if it meant “alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import” (i.e., Jewish Americans), the United States should stop investing “billions of dollars” in “servicing Israel’s military” and invest the money instead “in the new state of Palestine.” Moreover, she accused Israel of perpetrating “major human-rights abuses” and “war crimes.”
Power’s 2002 book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, grew out of a paper she had written in law school and won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 2003. This book examines the origin of the word “genocide,” the major genocides of the 20th century, and the reasons why governments — most notably the U.S. — have so often failed to collectively identify and forestall genocides before the crisis stage.
In a 2003 New Republic article, Power suggested that U.S. officials could enhance their credibility with foreign countries by publicly apologizing for America’s past failures and transgresions. “We need: a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, or permitted by the United States” she wrote. “… A country has to look back before it can move forward. Instituting a doctrine of the mea culpa would enhance our credibility by showing that American decision-makers do not endorse the sins of their predecessors. When [German Chancellor Willy] Brandt went down on one knee in the Warsaw ghetto [in 1970], his gesture was gratifying to World War II survivors, but it was also ennobling and cathartic for Germany. Would such an approach be futile for the United States?” “Some anti-Americanism derives simply from our being a colossus that bestrides the earth,” added Power. “But much anti-Americanism derives from the role U.S. political, economic, and military power has played in denying such freedoms to others.” Power characterized American foreign policy as “an explicitly amoral enterprise.” She bemoaned the fact that America’s “exceptionalist impulses” had been “with us for a long time,” and that they animated George W. Bush’s “militant moralism.”
In her 2004 review of Noam Chomsky’s book Hegemony or Survival, Power agreed with many of Chomsky’s criticisms of U.S. foreign policy and expressed her own concerns about what she called the “sins of our allies in the war on terror,” lumping Israel together with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan, Russia, and Uzbekistan. She called Chomsky’s work “sobering and instructive.”
In the aftermath of John Kerry‘s failed presidential run in 2004, Power told the New Statesman: “The lesson we got was that the only thing worse than John Kerry being Swiftboated was his being slow to respond. God love him, he must have thought that having got shrapnel in his ass out there [in Vietnam] bought him some credibility. It didn’t.”
In 2005–06, Power worked as a foreign policy fellow in the office of U.S. Senator Barack Obama. In this role, she helped to spark and inform Obama’s interest in the deadly ethnic and tribal conflict of Darfur, Sudan.
In a 2007 interview, Power said that America’s relationship with Israel “has often led foreign policy decision-makers to defer reflexively to Israeli security assessments, and to replicate Israeli tactics which … can turn out to be counter-productive.” The United States, she explained, had brought terrorist attacks upon itself by aping Israel’s violations of human rights. More than once, in fact, Power has implied that Israel played a role in the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003. The author and retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters writes, “I know of no instance when Power has vigorously defended Jews or Christians murdered or driven from their homes by the Arabs she wants to ‘save.’”
In the fall of 2007, Power began writing a regular column for Time magazine. That same year, she appeared in Charles Ferguson’s documentary, No End in Sight, which criticized the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq War.
In January 2008, Power wrote a Time magazine column (titled “Rethinking Iran”), belittling concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, characterizing that program as a figment of George W. Bush’s imagination, and emphasizing the need to engage diplomatically with the Iranian mullahs. Wrote Powers:
“The war scare that wasn’t [a then-recent incident between Iranian speedboats and the U.S. Navy in the Straight of Hormuz] stands as a metaphor for the incoherence of our policy toward Iran: the Bush Administration attempts to gin up international outrage by making a claim of imminent danger, only to be met with international eye rolling when the claim is disproved. Sound familiar? The speedboat episode bore an uncanny resemblance to the Administration’s allegations about the advanced state of Iran’s weapons program — allegations refuted in December by the National Intelligence Estimate.”
In February 2008 Power released her second book, Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World. This book is about the eponymous United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who was killed in a Baghdad hotel bombing on August 19, 2003.
In early 2008 Power served as a senior foreign-policy advisor to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. She was forced to resign from the campaign in March, however, after it was learned that she had referred to Obama’s Democrat rival, Hillary Clinton, as “a monster” whose modus operandi was “deceit.”
Soon after leaving the campaign, Power publicly praised Barack Obama for stating that he would be willing to meet, without preconditions, with leaders of rogue nations during the first year of his administration.
On July 4, 2008, Power married law professor Cass Sunstein], whom she had met while working on the Obama campaign.
In January 2009 President Obama appointed Power to serve as Director for Multilateral Affairs in the National Security Council, a post where she would serve as one of Obama’s closest advisors on foreign policy.
In March 2011, Power was instrumental in persuading Obama to authorize military intervention in Libya, to prevent President Moammar Qaddafi’s forces from killing the rebels who were rising up against his regime at that time. Power’s counsel in this matter was consistent with her longstanding advocacy of the doctrine known as the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P), which encourages the international community to intervene in a sovereign country’s internal affairs — with military force if necessary — in order to thwart genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, or ethnic cleansing. The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCRP), which is the world’s leading advocate of this doctrine, is funded by George Soros‘s Open Society Institute. Power and GCRP advisory-board member Gareth Evans — who is also also president emeritus of the International Crisis Group — have been joint keynote speakers at a number of events where they have championed the R2P principle together.
On August 21, 2013, the UN Security Council called an emergency meeting to focus on a deadly chemical-weapons attack that had just killed more than 1,000 people inside Syria, where Islamist rebels were engaged in civil war against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. But Power, who tweeted a call for UN intervention after news of the attack broke, and who had long advocated outside military intervention in the Syrian conflict, was on a personal trip when the emergency meeting was held, and she did not attend.
At an International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony on January 27, 2014, Power noted how the Russians had liberated Auschwitz 69 years earlier, and called on them to now use their influence again — to facilitate the transport of humanitarian aid into war-torn Syria. Said Power:
“In October the Security Council spoke with a united voice about the need for action to address the humanitarian devastation in Syria. There are people who … are literally being starved and bombed to death. They need food desperately and yet food cannot reach them because the regime won’t allow it.
“In 1945, Russian soldiers liberated Auschwitz. Sixty-nine years later, if the United Nations is to live up to the noble purposes for which it was founded, the world again needs Russia to use its influence, this time, to ensure that food reaches the desperate and starving people imprisoned in besieged Homs, Yarmouk, the Damascus suburbs, and elsewhere.”
Journalist Daniel Greenfield offered some cogent observations about Power’s remarks:
“Considering that much of Syria thinks that the Holocaust was a good idea that didn’t go far enough and has tried to repeat it, the linkage [between the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz and the Syrian Civil War] is inappropriate at best. As is Power’s invocation of the Soviets as liberators. The Red Army did indeed take Auschwitz, but the Soviet Union’s pact with Nazi Germany had helped make Auschwitz possible.
“The left worked hard to revise history and transform the USSR into the stalwart anti-fascist resistance with the Allies as virtual collaborators, when it had actually been the other way around.
“The Soviet Union then spent decades minimizing and denying the Holocaust. And toward the end of his life, Stalin had allegedly planned to carry out his own Holocaust…. Stalin’s plan was aborted by his own death, but in his lifetime, his purges had killed large numbers of Jews. And the killings did not stop with his death…. The death toll under Khruschev and subsequent Soviet leaders decreased, but never stopped….
“Auschwitz wasn’t liberated because Stalin wanted to stop the killing. The killings would continue. Samantha Power is inappropriately hijacking Jewish history to promote a regime that engaged in mass murder, on behalf of terrorist groups that seek to murder Jews.”
On February 24, 2014 — shortly after she delivered the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at UCLA — Power tweeted the following about Pearl, an American Jewish journalist who in 2002 was kidnapped by Pakistani militants and was later beheaded — simply because he was a Jew — by al-Qaeda member Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Pakistan: “Daniel Pearl’s story is reminder that individual accountability & reconciliation are required to break cycles of violence.”
In October 2014, the governors of New York and New Jersey ordered that all medical workers returning from West Africa after having treated victims of the ebola virus which was ravaging that region at the time, were to be quarantined for 21 days. The Obama administration opposed the quarantines, however. As Power put it during an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press: “All of us need to make clear what these health workers mean to us and how much we value their services, how much we value their contribution. We need to make sure they are treated like conquering heroes and not in any other way.”
Power’s Involvement in “Unmasking” Americans
In the course of conducting intelligence operations on terrorist organizations or other foreign entities, American national security agents often collect information on “U.S. persons” – a term of art referring to United States citizens and lawful permanent residents – who are not under surveillance themselves. The intelligence community refers to such occurrences as examples of “incidental collection.” In incidentally collected communications, the name of the person whose conversations have been intercepted is supposed to be redacted or “masked” – i.e., replaced with a generic identifier – unless the information is thought to have value as foreign intelligence. Masking is carried out to protect individuals who may get inadvertently caught up in an electronic dragnet, from being falsely accused of crimes or of otherwise improper behavior.
Conversely, the “unmasking” of a “U.S. person” – i.e., the identification of such an individual by name – is an extraordinarily powerful tool that requires review at the highest levels of government. Only the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA are authorized to unmask U.S. persons, and then only for reasons of national security. And if these agencies do unmask someone, his or her identity may only released to the few intelligence officials (about 20 or so) who are authorized to make an unmasking request. In short, the practice of unmasking is not in itself illegal, but the leaking of an unmasked person’s identity to anyone other than the aforementioned small group of intelligence officials, is.
On July 19, 2017, the Washington Free Beacon reported that during the last year of the Obama administration, Power had been deeply involved in unmasking the names of Donald Trump allies whose private conversations were included in raw intelligence reports:
“Former United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power’s involvement in the unmasking by former Obama administration officials of sensitive national security information is raising red flags over what insiders view was an attempt by the former administration to undermine President Donald Trump and key figures on his team, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with the situation. Power appears to be central to efforts by top Obama administration officials to identify individuals named in classified intelligence community reports related to Trump and his presidential transition team, according to multiple sources. The names of Trump allies in the raw intelligence reports were leaked to the press in what many in Congress and the current administration claim is an attempt by Obama allies and former officials to damage the White House. The House Intelligence Committee, which is spearheading the investigation into these efforts, has issued subpoenas for Power and other top Obama administration figures, including former national security adviser Susan Rice, as part of congressional efforts to determine the source of these leaks. Power’s role in this unmasking effort is believed to be particularly questionable given her position as the U.N. ambassador, a post that does not typically require such sensitive unmasking activities, according to former U.S. officials and other sources familiar with the matter.”
On July 27, 2017, Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, then-chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a letter to the director of National Intelligence, Daniel Coats, informing him “that Obama-era officials [had] sought the identities of Trump transition officials within intelligence reports,” and that it was possible that the information had been obtained in order to make “anonymous leaks of those names to the media” for “partisan political purposes” or “political spying.” Though Power was not specifically cited in the letter, Nunes noted the impropriety of an Obama official who had held a position with “no apparent intelligence-related function” making “hundreds of unmasking requests.”
In addition, an anonymous source, described by the Washington Free Beacon as a veteran political operative of the GOP who was briefed by senior intelligence officials, said this in July 2017 about Power’s unmasking of Trump associates: “That’s just not the sort of thing that she should have been concerned about, unless she was playing the role of political operative with the help of the intelligence community. It gives away what was actually going on: the Obama administration was operating in a pervasive culture of impunity and using the intelligence community against their political opponents.”
On August 2, 2017, the Washington Free Beacon reported that “Power is believed to be the anonymous official responsible for ‘hundreds of unmasking requests during the final year of the Obama administration,’ according to current and former U.S. officials….”
On September 21, 2017, Fox News reported: “Samantha Power … was ‘unmasking’ at such a rapid pace in the final months of the Obama administration that she averaged more than one request for every working day in 2016 – and even sought information in the days leading up to President Trump’s inauguration, multiple sources close to the matter told Fox News. Two sources, who were not authorized to speak on the record, said the requests to identify Americans whose names surfaced in foreign intelligence reporting, known as unmasking, exceeded 260 last year. One source indicated this occurred in the final days of the Obama White House.”
Some UN ambassadors had made unmasking requests in prior presidential administrations, but in total they numbered in the low double digits.
In her October 2017 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Power told Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina) that although the unmasking requests had been made in her name, she was not the person who actually had made the requests.