Report: White House Picking Insiders to ‘Independently’ Review NSA Spying Activities

President Barack Obama will soon choose members of a panel that will "independently review" the National Security Agency's surveillance policies. The President announced the plan to form such a committee earlier this month at a press conference, and promised that it would be comprised of "high level group of outside experts." But early indications of his possible picks for this committee show that some of the choices are anything but outsiders. In fact, several have worked in past administrations, and at least one worked in two administrations.

A report published by ABC News (and highlighted by Ars Technica) shows that at least four of the panelists have longstanding ties to the government and intelligence infrastructure, leading some to question just how independent it actually will be. The government has denied ABC's report.

The panel, which will report its initial findings to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (who told Congress under oath that the NSA was not spying on American citizens) by November 2013, with its final recommendations due before the year's end. So who are these four individuals and why are critics worried that they are not independent? According to ABC News, they are Michael Morrell, Richard Clarke, Peter Swire, and Cass Sunstein.

Michael Morrell is a veteran of the CIA, who served as director in 2011 and a second time from 2012 to 2013.

Richard Clarke worked in the George W Bush Administration as a counter-terrorism advisor, and as a special advisor to the president on cybersecurity. He left government in 2003 to form Good Harbor Security Risk Management, a cybersecurity consultancy.

Peter Swire is a law professor and privacy expert currently at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He served in the Clinton Administration as Chief Counselor for Privacy in the US Office of Management and Budget and later for President Obama as part of his transition team after the 2008 election, and for two years as a special assistant to the President.

Cass Sunstein is a Harvard Law professor who served as administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He also wrote an academic paper in 2010 in which he encouraged government agents to "enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic, or implications for political action." He is also married to Samantha Power, the current United States ambassador to the United Nations.

While opinions vary among legal scholars, the EFF said it best in their response to this story:

"The picks show that the president's commitment to having ‘independent’ and ‘outside experts’ review the spying programs is false," Mark Jaycox, a policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), told Ars Technica. "All the picks are thorough Washington insiders."

It should be noted that the Administration has not confirmed these four individuals as part of the committee. They are also not the only committee members – more are being selected.

We will have more on this story as it develops.

Source: Ars Technica

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