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September 23, 2013

‘Independent’ Surveillance Review Panel Firmly Under Government Control: Report

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It looks like the skeptics were right.

The independent group of experts, tasked by U.S. President Barack Obama to review the government’s surveillance programs —most notably those of the National Security Agency (NSA) — are basically working with their hands ties behind their backs, according to a report from The Associated Press.

When Obama announced in August such a group would be formed, many were skeptical about how effective the review would be after the president appointed director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper to head the effort.

The fact that the panel reports directly to Clapper  — who has become famous for his “No, sir” response to Sen. Ron Wyden’s (D-Ore.) 2011 question about if the National Security Agency (NSA) collects information on U.S. citizens — had many saying Obama’s choice proves he is not interested in a truly open review of surveillance programs.

It now appears the skeptics were right to worry about how effective the panel would be.

According to The Associated Press (AP), the group is not only located in offices provided by the Director of National Intelligence, but the DNI also manages the group’s media strategy and scrutinizes requests through its own press office.

Clapper, AP reported, has “exempted the panel from U.S. rules that require federal committees to conduct their business and their meetings in ways the public can observe. Its final report, when it’s issued, will be submitted for White House approval before the public can read it.”

The panel’s meetings with technology industry and privacy groups have also been off-limits to the public, even though such meetings are supposed to be a matter of public record.

Another strike against the panel is the fact that its members are not “independent experts” as Obama promised.

Four of the members worked for Democratic administrations in the past and the remaining member has ties to the party.

Peter Swire was the former office of management and budget privacy director under President Bill Clinton; Michael Morell was the current president’s former deputy CIA director; Richard Clarke was the former counterterrorism co-ordinator under Clinton and also for President George W. Bush; and Cass Sunstein was Obama’s former regulatory advisor. Geoffrey Stone may never have worked for the Democrats, but he does lead a University of Chicago committee that has a goal to build Obama’s presidential library in Chicago. He was also an informal adviser to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

The review panel is supposed to assess if U.S. surveillance protects national security and advances the country’s foreign policy without violating personal privacy rights. As such, the 2015 Program —which collects data from wireless carriers — and PRISM —which forces Internet companies such as Google and Facebook to hand over subscriber data — are to be scrutinized.

The review group has been given 60 days from the time of its establishment, to submit its interim findings to Obama via Clapper. A final report and recommendations are to be submitted through the Defense for Intelligence (DNI) no later than Dec. 15.


Jennifer Cowan is the Managing Editor for SiteProNews.