That word you keep using? It does not mean what you think it means

As a result of the revelations by Edward Snowden of abuse by the NSA, president Obama promised an ‘independent’ review of the agencies activities, a promise that was immediately belied by the fact that he said the panel would work under the supervision of James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, who still has his job despite getting caught blatantly lying under oath.

It turns out that the whole process is an even bigger sham than first suspected.

Stung by public unease about new details of spying by the National Security Agency, President Barack Obama selected a panel of advisers he described as independent experts to scrutinize the NSA’s surveillance programs to be sure they weren’t violating civil liberties and to restore Americans’ trust.

But with just weeks remaining before its first deadline to report back to the White House, the review panel has effectively been operating as an arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA and all other U.S. spy efforts.

The formal White House memorandum days later — effectively the legal charter for the group — does not specify anything about its role being independent of the Obama administration. It directed the panel to emphasize in its review whether U.S. spying programs protect national security, advance foreign policy and are protected against the types of leaks that led to the national debate in the first place. The final consideration in the White House memo told the panel to examine “our need to maintain the public trust.” There was no mention of the panel investigating surveillance abuses.

Any bets on what this fiercely independent panel will conclude? Just look at its composition.

Four of the five review panel members previously worked for Democratic administrations: Peter Swire, former Office of Management and Budget privacy director under President Bill Clinton; Michael Morell, Obama’s former deputy CIA director; Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism coordinator under Clinton and later for President George W. Bush; and Cass Sunstein, Obama’s former regulatory czar. A fifth panel member, Geoffrey Stone of the University of Chicago, leads a university committee looking to build Obama’s presidential library in Chicago and was an informal adviser to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Stone wrote in a July op-ed that the NSA surveillance program that collects the phone records of every American every day is constitutional.

Stone was added later, presumably because Obama and Clapper felt the original four members of the panel were crazy privacy-lovers and too anti-establishment.

This Tom Tomorrow cartoon from a month ago is proving to be remarkably prophetic.


  1. says

    Frankly, I’m not sure that it’s so much their being Democrats, as much as “close to the current officeholder”, because I find it hard to think that Romney would have hired a bunch of Democrats for his alternate-universe Presidency’s look into the NSA revelations, but I sincerely doubt that the pack of cronies Romney’d pick would be any more or less corrupt than the pack of cronies Obama has picked.

    These guys are Kang and Kodos, anymore.

  2. colnago80 says

    I think that Prof. Singham is not being entirely fair to conflate Richard Clarke with the others. Clarke is the one whose warnings about an imminent Al Qaeda attack in 2001 were ignored by the Bush administration because he had been a member of the Clinton Administration. Apparently, they were unaware that Clarke was a Rethuglican.

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