Two weeks ago today, President Obama proposed a number of reforms to the NSA and FISA court in response to the Snowden leak. The reforms were largely cosmetic changes meant to give the illusion of real change, but there was one proposal that could actually do some good. He proposed the creation of an independent review board that would determine if the NSA ever overstepped its boundaries.
ABC News reports that the Obama administration has chosen four members of the Intelligence community to head up the NSA review panel. These four members will be Michael Morell, Richard Clarke, Cass Sunstein and Peter Swire. The panel will deliver a report on the NSA in 60 days to Intelligence Director James Clapper, and then will deliver a final report and recommendations to President Obama before the end of the year.
So, who are these people, and can they be trusted to independently review the NSA? Morell is by far the most well-known member as he served with the CIA since 1980 and was acting director in 2012. Clarke served in various counter-terrorism roles under both former Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Sunstein was the former Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under President Obama. Finally, Peter Swire is an expert in privacy law and served as an economic advisor to Obama during the beginning of his first term.
As you can see, Swire is the only independent voice on the panel, and even he has previous ties to the administration. The other three members have close ties to the intelligence community. I don't want to say that they will bring any pre-existing biases into the discussion, but it's hard to believe that they won't. The NSA already gets free reign to rule itself with very little oversight, and this oversight panel will likely not change any of that.
Privacy advocates aren't exactly happy about the appointees. The EFF told The Guardian that "having executive branch insiders continually placed in charge of reviewing the executive brach ... is more of a fox guarding the henhouse operation."
Lawmakers aren't happy either with Rep. Zoe Lofgren saying that the review panel "doesn't give the appearance of independence that was anticipated." She also cautioned that the review panel might not even work:
"The apparent goal of sorting through the issues, and getting a credible report out there that was reassuring, will not be achieved. And therefore, he [Obama] is going to have to do something else."
Even if the public is largely pessimistic about the choices, they won't get to see the results of the investigation until later this year or early next. Even then, the Obama administration might just give us a summary of the report claiming that the full report threatens national security. We can only hope that's not the case.[Image: Wikimedia Commons]