White House Changing Its Story On James Clapper's Role In Independent Surveillance Review

from the straight-answers,-please dept

Right, so yesterday, President Obama sent a letter to James Clapper, the director of national intelligence (DNI), who is a confessed liar to Congress in his attempts to protect the surveillance program from public scrutiny. In that letter, President Obama directed Clapper to “establish a Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies.” This was the fulfillment of Obama’s promise to set up an “independent group” of “outside experts” to review the surveillance efforts.

As you might imagine, many people found this somewhat ridiculous — beyond having a fox guard the henhouse, this was asking the fox to set up the group to look into what happened to all those missing chickens. It was just laughable. Today, however, the White House is claiming… something. They’re saying that Clapper isn’t setting up the group or leading it:

“Director Clapper will not be a part of the group, and is not leading or directing the group’s efforts,” Caitlin Hayden, a White House spokeswoman, told The Hill on Tuesday.

“The White House is selecting the members of the Review Group, consulting appropriately with the Intelligence Community,” she said, adding that the administration expects to announce the members of the group soon.

Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the director of national intelligence, also said that the group will “not be under direction of or led by” Clapper.

It seems like, as with absolutely everything in this discussion, Clapper and the administration are choosing their words very, very, very carefully. Here they’re saying that he won’t be “leading” the group or “directing” the group. But no one has argued that. They’re saying — as the White House did — that he’s in charge of setting up the group. Now, the White House seems to be suggesting that “establishing” the group is different from “selecting the members,” which is possible if the process for “establishing” the group is James Clapper holding out his hands and saying, “poof, this group has been established” and then someone else picks the members.

Also, while Clapper may not be a “member” of the group and won’t “lead” it, the group is clearly reporting to Clapper. From President Obama’s letter:

the Review Group will brief their interim findings to me through the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and the Review Group will provide a final report and recommendations to me through the DNI no later than December 15, 2013.

So, yes, Clapper isn’t leading the day-to-day review by the group, but its report is going straight to him, which makes it anything but independent.

Honestly, this kind of doubletalk is the exact kind of thing that’s pissing so many people off about this. If President Obama’s goal here was to rebuild trust, telling Clapper to “establish” this group and to have the group report to Clapper… and then, a day later, having the White House carefully choose their language to pretend that Clapper is separate from the group is not the way to do it. Involving Clapper in the first place was a mistake. Actually, having Clapper still on the job after his admitted lying to Congress was a big mistake. Dancing around the fact that he’s involved is just making the administration look worse and worse.

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Comments on “White House Changing Its Story On James Clapper's Role In Independent Surveillance Review”

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Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Not independent enough? Then what exactly?

The group can be independent of the NSA and of any other intelligence group that has been tasked with creating, using, maintaining, etc, any relevant spying program… and still go through the DNI.

From Wikipedia:

“The DNI exerts leadership of the IC primarily through statutory authorities under which he or she:
“– controls the “National Intelligence Program” budget;
“– establishes objectives, priorities, and guidance for the IC; and
“– manages and directs the tasking of, collection, analysis, production, and dissemination of national intelligence by elements of the IC.

“However, the DNI has no authority to direct and control any element of the IC except his own staff ….”

The DNI is a way to have the sophisticated technical information be wrapped up and cleared and presented to the President. Clapper did not partake in creating any of these programs. He does not oversee the programs. He coordinates at a high level the direction the intelligence community is to take.

Now, an group independent of all of these agencies will look into these things and, as any other independent group would do on intelligence matters, would report to the DNI as the way to report to the President.

What did you guys want by “independent”? A group that looks at what they want and reports to the New York Times? To Congress? Who gets to sit at cabinet meetings? If you want Congress to set up their own group, that is for Congress to initiate and is separate from the way the President chooses to have that independent group’s evaluation reach his ear. [No human is truly independent of society, “no man is an island”, so I assume we are using a practical meaning of “independent”.]

Are you people asking to have US secrets opened up through this group? I think that is a separate conversation and lots would have to change before that can be done responsibly. Many Americans would call that opening up “treasonous”, however.

What did you people have in mind by “independent”?

yaga (profile) says:

Clapper's job

I know that Clapper lied to Congress but we all can be fairly confident it was with the full knowledge and support of the President. If that is the case shouldn’t we be talking about impeachment of the President? Doesn’t it at least call for a full investigation that would either show that Clapper was doing his own thing or that the White House was giving him his marching orders?

out_of_the_blue says:

Is Mike naive, or hopelessly naive? Discuss.

Masnicking like this raises the question.

Haven’t you kids learned anything from movies? Corrupt people in power DELIGHT in you KNOWING they’re corrupt and being unable to do anything about it.

Like the Snowden “leak” exposing to even the dullest what those criminals are doing, this is just MORE positive publicity far as the Admin is concerned. It gets you accustomed to whitewashes and arbitrary tyranny by known criminals, and your own lack of ability to affect it. At least see the pattern.

Masnicking: daily spurts of short and trivial traffic-generating items.

lfroen (profile) says:

Re: Re: Is Mike naive, or hopelessly naive? Discuss.

While you definitely right about guy being obsessed, his point is correct: Mike is naive or hopelessly naive.
Your administration is corrupt. Corrupt as a whole group. You want to see changes – march to the Washington and demand them out.
No, don’t ask to “rebuild the trust”. Demand them all fired.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Is Mike naive, or hopelessly naive? Discuss.

Yeah, demand them all fired. And then? Nothing happens.

March to Washington? The American press is not covering the protests that are happening there. And then?

It’s an ant’s job. These issues are systemic and will take long to be fixed. Mike is contributing a lot by using his reputation to spread the word and deliver the message at times straight inside the Govt for the good pieces to act. Who’s naive again?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Is Mike naive, or hopelessly naive? Discuss.

You want to see changes – march to the Washington and demand them out.

Massive protests and marches have been happening since 2001. That you haven’t heard of many of them, and the ones you have heard of are made to sound small, is an excellent reminder of why “marching on Washington” is insufficient.

Nastybutler77 (profile) says:

If Udall or Wyden aren’t on this review board, then this is an even bigger farce than I suspect it already is. I’d be willing to bet that our old friend Gen. Hayden manages to be named to this “independant” board seeing as he is a trusted national security expert, at least according to Face the Nation and the other Washington propoganda outlets.

Any takers? I’ll even give you odds.

mischab1 says:

“The White House is selecting the members of the Review Group, consulting appropriately with the Intelligence Community”

Unless ‘consulting appropriately’ means not consulting at all, do they really think the public trusts that they will get an *Independent* Review Group?

But yeah, the real problem is that the Review Group should be reporting on Clapper not to him.

Anonymous Coward says:

I no longer trust the NSA involvement in straightening this out, nor do I trust a lying executive branch who has been nothing but a waterboy for toting the water of continuation going as far as to say nothing will change, nor do I trust most of congress who put all these actions into codified law. This calls for truly independent and even then, trust has been so damaged that it is unlikely to be accepted at face value with out minute inspection.

The lying, misdirection, and stonewalling has had an accumulative effect. It now shows up as simply not believing what we are being told. I and it seems a majority of the American public want the spying stopped. Not minorily altered, not overseen by another rubber stamp, not justified as being legal, not an alteration of the meanings of the words in the English language, but ended.

Juan says:

Re: Congress is the group

If Congress is “denied” anything, it’s their own fault.

I recommend reading the U.S. Constitution, which is supposed to be “the supreme law of the land”. The Constitution gave all of the power to Congress, which has spent the last two and a quarter centuries legislating that power away to the executive branch.

That fact that the Constitution is not supreme any more is Congress’s doing. It’s the idiots in Congress who have handed over control of the United States to executive branch bureaucracies like NSA, and who have neither the guts nor the intelligence to take it back.

Anonymous Coward says:

Zero credibility. That pretty much sums up this travesty.

Also, I recently installed TextSecure on my cell phone. It’s an encrypts text messages.

I got an unpleasant surprise text message from the NSA. The message came from my friend’s phone number.

I was standing right next to my friend in the same room. We were trying to exchange TextSecure keys, but the keys were not matching up. Someone was man-in-the-middling us. Then shortly after the failed key exchange, came the fake NSA message from my friend’s phone number.

It was absolutely crazy, because he didn’t send the message. I was right there looking at his phone.

I use AT&T for a cell service provider.

Then, to make matters even crazier I open up my web browser on my phone and instead of my regular homepage coming up, it’s a website appearing to be from AT&T asking me to click on a link to update my web browser.

Why would a browser update be coming from a web page? Wouldn’t that come in as a Google Play Store app update?

I think I clicked on the decline button like a dumb ass, so now my phone probably has NSA spyware on it so they can see my encrypted text messages.

It’s probably some kind of malware made by FinFisher and sold to the Government.

So beware, if you install encryption software on your cell phone, the NSA will start messing with you and attempt to install malware on your phone.

I’m a law-abiden citizen with no criminal record, so don’t believe the bullshit about the NSA no looking at the content of domestic communication messages.

I swear everything I said is true. The FinFisher stuff is just and assumption of mine. The part about getting a message from my friend’s phone number that he never send, and the man-in-the-middle key exchange attack, is 100% true.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

We were trying to exchange TextSecure keys, but the keys were not matching up. Someone was man-in-the-middling us.

Probably not, unless they were being unbelievably incompetent about it — which means it wasn’t the NSA. More likely, you encountered a bug, user error, or you’ve been trojaned.

Then shortly after the failed key exchange, came the fake NSA message from my friend’s phone number.

What did the message say?

I believe you experienced the effects you cite, but I don’t for a minute believe that it has anything to do with the NSA. They have no need to engage in the crude hacking attempts you describe — they have better methods and are actually really good at this stuff. You would never know they were listening.

Postulator (profile) says:

Why isn’t Clapper facing criminal charges yet? He lied to Congress! Worse, he was apparently under oath!

And so we go chasing around the world for a whistle-blower, while someone who has clearly broken the law is cruising around trying to clean up the mess the NSA has created (but without trying to fit back within the constitution).

Anonymous Coward says:

Insider threats of whistle-blowing

From yesterday’s announcement:

These technological advances have brought with them both great opportunities and significant risks for our Intelligence Community: opportunity in the form of enhanced technical capabilities that can more precisely and readily identify threats to our security, and risks in the form of insider and cyber threats.

By “insider threats”, do they mean whistleblowers?

TaCktiX (profile) says:

Re: Insider threats of whistle-blowing

Part of the Kool-aid to drink when it comes to government information assurance (read: cybersecurity for the rank-and-file) is that the insider threat is the most likely and the most damaging.

Yes, it’s naive to think that government networks are so secure that nobody else can hack them, but that’s the koolaid. The announcement is using standard boilerplate terms.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Slight adjustments to the system aren’t going to cut it. Obama’s compromise is an attempt at damage control, but we need to find a way to ensure that it fails.

Even if the review group was seeming to be entirely legit, it would still not be enough to protect us from fourth-amendment violations.

At very least, the results of this group’s reviews would still be classified. If the FISC’s oversight of the NSA was worse than we feared, the group would have no power to alert the public without getting the full Manning treatment.

No. The NSA needs to shut down. Those who allowed these surveillance programs need to be identified, tried and held accountable. This needs to become a cautionary marker in US History.

With regret I pronounce this fatal truth: Louis must die so that the nation may live.

Pawn to d4 says:

Choosing words carefully...

The problem is not that the president and others are choosing their words very carefully. The problem is that they had not done so in the past. And their past conduct and language use have made careful language suspicious.

This is alarming.

And here is why. The president is not engaging in double-talk. We just have to actively engage the words we are hearing and seeing, to understand what he and others are saying, and to get the relevant facts so as to be in position to assess such. This is a sophisticated matter, which demands sophisticated tools of understanding. But that is nothing to get upset about and is hardly grounds for turning careful language into collateral damage in this debate.

techdirt and the public at large can, in good faith, not now be up in arms about having to do the work of understanding which the president and the intelligence community have?in their fits of lies, subterfuge, and whatever else?spared us from ever since Snowden became an affair. techdirt and the public at large ought to be?and to be fair, they have been?protesting the past conduct and language use that lead to careful language being suspicious in the first place.

Let us stay on point, praise careful language, and continue to call bullshit on anyone using careful language for purposes of malicious deception “because terrorism.”

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: It IS double talk.

The point of these careful word-choosing sessions is to be able to pretend they’re communicating without really communicating, or to be able to seem to be saying something while saying another.

Or to be reassuring while having a degree of plausible deniability of perjury.

Once we notice they are being so careful, we can be fairly sure they’re willfully not saying something. It’s pretty likely they’re avoiding revealing something that we would regard as criminal or unethical.

And this is now the norm. Does anyone else have a problem with this?

Anonymous Coward says:

the only thing the Administration can do to get out of this ‘surveillance hole’ it has dug itself into is to stop it completely and forever. if it is carried on in any way, shape or form, especially if done in secret again and the public find out, i suspect there will be Hell to pay! Obama knew all about this stuff, probably had to agree to it all happening. he is not going to get away with continuing with all this horse shit. STOP THE SPYING, then get talks going from there but ensure that the public interest groups are kept up to speed with what is going on

Anonymous Coward says:

on lying to congress…

People lie (knowingly saying something false) to congress all the time. Congress never/super-rarely prosecutes such behaviour, because if they did no one would show up without being subpoenaed, and without a bunch of their attorneys, at which point they’d always take the fifth amendment. The way it is now, they get to grandstand a bit for the people back home.

limbodog (profile) says:

I'm sorry, but how is it any better if it's not Clapper?

The White House is the problem, not Clapper. Clapper is one fox overseeing the hen house. The White House is a troop of foxes! (Ok, i don’t know what you call a large number of foxes… A band? A gaggle?)

Someone not connected to the White House needs to set this up, and the White House, if they want even a hint of transparency, will accept who is named.

Nobody in Congress nor in the White House should be trusted with this because they are not trustworthy people.

Mike-2 Alpha (profile) says:

Maybe they think they’re in a Tom Clancy novel. They could be talking about establishing it in the literary sense. At some point down the road, Jim Clapper’s going to walk into the Oval Office and say to the President “there’s this independent group of outside experts reviewing our surveillance efforts” so that the reader will know they exist.

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