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August 13, 2013

Man Who Lied to Congress to Lead Review of Government Surveillance Programs

U.S. President Barack Obama has chosen director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper to head an independent group of experts to review the government’s surveillance programs.

The appointment of 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 — has many skeptical about how effective the review will be.

Now that the extent of the NSA surveillance has come to light courtesy of whistleblower Edward Snowden, Clapper has said he simply misunderstood the senator’s question, adding that he thought Wyden was inquiring only about e-mail when in fact he was inquiring about all data. Clapper has since said his answer was “clearly erroneous.”

The fact that the panel will report directly to Clapper has many saying Obama’s choice proves he is not interested in a truly open review of surveillance programs such as the 2015 Program, which collects data from wireless carriers and PRISM, which forces via court order or National Security Letter, Internet companies such as Google and Facebook to hand over subscriber data.

James R. Clapper

James R. Clapper

The review panel is to assess if U.S. surveillance protects national security and advances to the country’s foreign policy without violating personal privacy rights, according to a document signed by Obama.

The president, during a press conference last Friday, said the panel would be an independent group of outside experts. In his memo to Clapper, however, the president makes no mention of choosing only experts with no ties to the issue.

The memo reads:

I believe it is important to take stock of how these technological advances alter the environment in which we conduct our intelligence mission. To this end, by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I am directing you to establish a Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies (Review Group).

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 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.

Aside from ordering an “independent” review of the government’s intelligence and communications technologies, Obama on Friday also directed his government to work with Congress to “pursue appropriate reforms to our nation’s surveillance programs and the court that oversees them,” according to a White House document.

Other goals were:

• To pursue “appropriate” reforms to a section of the Patriot Act with the help of Congress in a bid “to give the American people confidence that there are additional safeguards against abuse.”

• To improve the public’s confidence in the oversight conducted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).

• Allow the intelligence community to make public as much as possible its surveillance programs and create a website to “serve as a hub for further transparency.”