Update: In the comments, Lysias points us to new information just released about the scope of Clapper's involvement. Details at the end of the diary.
On Friday (August 9), President Obama held a press conference at the White House, where he made these remarks.
[W]e’re forming a high-level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies. We need new thinking for a new era. We now have to unravel terrorist plots by finding a needle in the haystack of global telecommunications. And meanwhile, technology has given governments -- including our own -- unprecedented capability to monitor communications.
So I am tasking this independent group to step back and review our capabilities -- particularly our surveillance technologies. And they’ll consider how we can maintain the trust of the people, how we can make sure that there absolutely is no abuse in terms of how these surveillance technologies are used, ask how surveillance impacts our foreign policy -- particularly in an age when more and more information is becoming public. And they will provide an interim report in 60 days and a final report by the end of this year, so that we can move forward with a better understanding of how these programs impact our security, our privacy, and our foreign policy.
On Monday, the White House released a memo
directing the establishment of a "Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies."
The Review Group will assess whether, in light of advancements in communications technologies, the United States employs its technical collection capabilities in a manner that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust. Within 60 days of its establishment, the Review Group will brief their interim findings to me through the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and the Review Group will provide a final report and recommendations to me through the DNI no later than December 15, 2013. - Barack Obama
The same day, the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, issued this news release
At the direction of the President, I am establishing the Director of National Intelligence Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies to examine our global signals-intelligence collection and surveillance capability.
The Review Group will assess whether, in light of advancements in communications technologies, the United States employs its technical collection capabilities in a manner that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust.
The Review Group will brief its interim findings to the President within 60 days of its establishment, and provide a final report with recommendations no later than Dec. 15, 2013.
James R. Clapper
Director of National Intelligence
Notice that neither memo says anything about assessing whether the programs violate the civil liberties of Americans or go beyond Congressional authorization although both have been alleged by legal experts and members of Congress.
Timothy Lee, at the Washington Post, writes:
Friday’s speech talked about the need for input from outside experts with independent points of view. The president made no mention of the need for outsiders or independent viewpoints in his memo to Clapper. The stated mission of the group has also shifted. On Friday, Obama said the group would examine “how we can maintain the trust of the people, how we can make sure that there absolutely is no abuse.” But today’s memo makes no mention of preventing abuses. Instead, it will examine whether US surveillance activity “optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust.”
The selection of Clapper to lead the effort is positively poisonous to the public trust. Of all of the people who might have been chosen, Obama selected Clapper:
--who "unambiguously lied to Congress," about the scope of NSA surveillance, in the words of Rep. Thomas Massie (R, KY).
--who opposed reining in NSA programs and helped kill a House amendment that sought to end NSA's mass collection of telephone records.
--who is named in an ACLU lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of NSA's surveillance.
The selection of Clapper has drawn anger and ridicule. TechDirt writes:
If this was about "restoring the trust" of the American people that the government isn't pulling a fast one over on them, President Obama sure has a funny way of trying to rebuild that trust. This seems a lot more like giving the concerns of the American public a giant middle finger.
I've seen enough internal government investigations to know that they are unlikely to be anything but rubber stamps. Lee, at the Post, similarly concludes, "[G]enuinely independent oversight will only come from Congress, not a commission hand-picked by the nation’s top intelligence official. But, is today's Congress up to the task? Much has changed since 1975 and 1976, when the Church Committee
took the CIA to task.
If President Obama thought his selection of James Clapper to investigate James Clapper would shore up public trust, then he really needs a vacation.
On Tuesday, the White House revised the scope of Clapper's role, according to reports in The Hill and Yahoo News. The information appears to have been provided quietly, without a press conference or official news release.
Director Clapper will not be a part of the group, and is not leading or directing the group’s efforts," Caitlin Hayden, a White House spokeswoman, told The Hill on Tuesday.
"The White House is selecting the members of the Review Group, consulting appropriately with the Intelligence Community," she said, adding that the administration expects to announce the members of the group soon. - The Hill
The White House said on Tuesday that Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper won't choose members of a special committee tasked with reviewing high-tech U.S. spying programs and ferreting out abuses, contradicting earlier statements from both Clapper and President Barack Obama. Clapper also won't run the study, officials said. - Yahoo News
Caitlin Hayden, "National Security Council Spokeswoman," is quoted, saying, “The panel members are being selected by the White House, in consultation with the Intelligence Community."
“The Review Group will be made up of independent outside experts. The DNI’s role is one of facilitation, and the Group is not under the direction of or led by the DNI,” Hayden said. “The members require security clearances and access to classified information so they need to be administratively connected to the government, and the DNI’s office is the right place to provide that. The review process and findings will be the Group’s.”
The Hill writes, "Privacy advocates expressed dismay on Monday after President Obama directed Clapper to establish a group that will provide recommendations for reforming the controversial surveillance programs." Yahoo reports "something of a backlash" followed Monday's news.
Even the latest changes provide little assurance that the process will be truly "independent" and meaningful. As long as members of the Review Group are "administratively connected" to the government, the administration can retaliate and they know it.
Photo by mpclemens at Flickr (Creative Commons License)
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