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Obama names first-ever independent NSA watchdog

NSA Seal

President Barack Obama has tapped a longtime government lawyer to serve as the first presidentially appointed inspector general of the National Security Agency.

Robert P. Storch is currently deputy IG at the Department of Justice and also chairs of a working group on whistleblowers at the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. Before becoming deputy IG, Storch served as acting deputy and as senior counsel and counselor to the Justice Department IG. Storch came to the IG world from the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of New York, where he served from 1995 to 2012, rising to the position of deputy criminal chief.

Storch's nomination requires Senate confirmation, and it's not clear whether the Senate plans to hold hearings on appointments in the waning days of the Obama administration. Obama could make a recess appointment to last about one year after the 114th Congress ends.

Russell Decker currently serves as acting NSA IG. The position is appointed by the agency's director and is effectively a member of the senior staff. This arrangement came under criticism after the Edward Snowden revelations of 2013, when reformers sought to provide would-be whistleblowers with more official channels through which employees could express displeasure with intelligence and surveillance policy or register complaints about potential violations of the law.

The law was changed to allow for an independent IG at NSA in the 2014 Intelligence Authorization act. In the Senate report on the bill, lawmakers said, "this provision will ensure the NSA Inspector General operates independently of the Director of the Agency in overseeing the activities of the NSA, particularly with respect to activities that may raise privacy concerns."

Though the bill passed in July 2014, it has taken until now to name a candidate to fill the new post. But that doesn't mean that the agency has been without independent oversight. The Department of Defense IG has a role in NSA oversight. That DOD watchdog is currently in the midst of a series of audits called for in the classified annex of the 2016 intelligence authorization bill designed to probe NSA's efforts to improve its overall IT, data and network security. The second of these audits was announced on Nov. 14.

Posted by Adam Mazmanian on Nov 30, 2016 at 2:37 PM


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