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23 Aug, 2013 00:56

Washington insiders appointed to 'independent' NSA review panel - report

Washington insiders appointed to 'independent' NSA review panel - report

The Obama administration will appoint a group of former White House officials and security experts who have spent their careers working in intelligence to oversee the review of National Security Agency surveillance programs, according to a new report.

While an official announcement remains forthcoming, ABC reported that the review panel will include Michael Morell, Richard Clarke, Cass Sunstein, and Peter Swire. Each of the four men have held high positions in the Obama administration, a stipulation that privacy advocates quickly noticed despite Obama’s pledge that the review commission would consist of a “high-level group of outside experts.” 

Morell’s presence, in particular, has drawn the ire of NSA opponents because he has worked at the CIA in a variety of ways since 1980. He was President Bush’s intelligence briefer on September 11, 2001 and retired from his position as deputy director of the CIA earlier this year. 

Amie Stepanovich, the director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center's (EPIC) domestic surveillance project, told the Washington Post that the appointments are not encouraging for privacy advocates. 

An independent evaluation of the NSA’s surveillance programs is needed,” she said. “But a worthwhile review requires an independent team of evaluators. We continue to learn how each of the oversight mechanisms that the administration has pointed to have continuously failed. The background of this panel indicates that it, too, is unlikely to be meaningful or effective.” 

Despite all four men having backgrounds in the upper echelon of government, optimists are encouraged by Swire’s presence on the oversight board. Currently a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Swire criticized what he perceived as surveillance abuse in the Bush administration and has signed two amicus briefs to the Supreme Court challenging the NSA programs disclosed by Edward Snowden in June. 

One of the briefs signed by Swire said the NSA’s order to Verizon to hand over millions of phone call logs and data “clearly violates the law and presents an extraordinary risk to personal privacy of millions of US persons…Such sweeping collection of data about individuals who ‘have done nothing to warrant government suspicion…has the potential to be a 21st century equivalent of general searches.’” 

During an interview last month with Information Security Media Group, Swire argued that the time has come for less secrecy around government programs and called for restraint given the nation’s current technological capabilities. 

The problem with great big databases is, once they exist, people find way to use them,” he said. “I also think the collection about Americans doing domestic calls is highly questionable under the Fourth Amendment.” 

The review panel will meet in 60 days and provide an interim report to the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, who will then brief the President on the group’s determinations. ABC noted that the aforementioned list may be incomplete. An official White House announcement is expected soon.