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If not Clapper, then who?

surveillance camera

It seems the confusion surrounding the review of surveillance activities ordered last week by President Barack Obama goes beyond just the head-scratching over whether Director of National Intelligence James Clapper will lead the review group. There is a sense of uncertainty not only over who should lead, but who should be involved, as evidenced by an email message from an anonymous reader:

I can see why Clapper leading the intelligence review would be a conflict of interest. But shouldn't the people involved in the review be pretty familiar with how things work in the intelligence community? By its very nature the community and activities under review are secretive, so I would think only certain people -- those who know how things work on the inside -- would be able to determine if current methods and technologies are effective. How would real outsiders know such things?

Amber Corrin responds: It is true that members of the review group will need to have a firm handle on the issues closest to intelligence, surveillance and the technological capabilities central to the discussion. As Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, pointed out in the story, that means those people will be in some way tied to the government, but it does not necessarily mean they have to be the top officials from the community being evaluated.

"With regards to the membership, we would hope that the members of the panel would not be made of persons who work under Clapper or in an agency he supervises; we would also hope that they are not contractors working with the agencies," said Aimee Thomson, a legal fellow at the Project on Government Oversight. "While we acknowledge that any panel that reviews intelligence programs must certainly be made of persons from within the intelligence community, we hope the panel will be balanced by those who will represent privacy and civil liberties concerns."

Thomson pointed out that a similar review is expected from the bipartisan executive-branch Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. The board’s review likely will be more credible as an independent evaluation, with the review panel comprising former members of the intelligence community and representatives of the civil liberties community, she said.

The White House, through National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden, has insisted that Clapper's role is limited and focused on facilitation -- a role serving the logistical purpose of being the central communications channel, much like the reasoning for the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence itself, as Thomson noted. Even so, Clapper's involvement, however indirect, remains an issue.

"Any independent review of surveillance programs would lack credibility if they appeared to be controlled by the intelligence community," she said. "While such a review can have merit, a report influenced by the intelligence community cannot reasonably be called independent."

According to Martin, the involvement of Congress is critical to an effective and comprehensive evaluation of the community, its activities, and the programs and technologies at the center of the controversy. She noted that in the past, such reviews have been successful only when Congress pushed for transparency, which would include the declassification and release of more information than has so far emerged.

Posted by Amber Corrin on Aug 16, 2013 at 9:46 AM

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