Administration's Surveillance Review Board Appointees Mostly Sympathetic Insiders

from the totally-dying-of-shock-right-now dept

The surveillance review panel (feat. special guest James Clapper!) Obama announced on August 9th has taken shape. Four appointees have been named, and if this ends up being the totality of the panel, there’s not much hope it will provide any sort of meaningful pushback on excessive or intrusive surveillance.

As the Washington Post reports, the four members of the panel are all Washington insiders.

[O]bama administration’s surveillance review panel will include former intelligence and White House staffers, including Michael Morell, Richard Clarke, Cass Sunstein and Peter Swire.

Morell is 33-year veteran of the CIA, who retired from his post just two weeks ago. Where he stands on privacy matters isn’t exactly clear, but considering his former position as deputy director, it would stand to reason he’s more aligned with the NSA’s thinking than the public’s.

Richard Clarke is a long-time cyberwar hawk, having served as the chairman of the Counter-Terrorism Security Group under George H.W. Bush, as well as a long stint on the National Security Counsel. Clarke has made recent pushes for more offensive cyberwar strategies and has generally contributed to the FUD surrounding these issues.

On the plus side, he was highly critical of the second Bush administration’s actions during his testimony to the 9/11 Commission. That being said, he’s really not in favor of scaling back surveillance efforts. Orin Kerr sums Clarke up this way in his piece on the surveillance panel.

[I]n my experience working on some similar issues as he did in the government, Clarke had a reputation for seeing everything as an extraordinarily grave national security threat. I would think Clarke is likely to bring in a pro-government perspective on the issues here.

This brings us to Cass Sunstein, who’s a bit of a wildcard. Sunstein’s written work tends to draw together a blend of constitutional law, behavioral science and economics, often reaching some very interesting conclusions. But what’s most concerning about Sunstein’s appointment is the views he expressed in a 2008 paper co-authored with Adrian Vermule, where he argued that the government should be paying more attention to those spreading conspiracy theories.

“The existence of both domestic and foreign conspiracy theories, we suggest, is no trivial matter, posing real risks to the government’s antiterrorism policies, whatever the latter may be.” They go on to propose that, “the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups”…

Glenn Greenwald has more on Sunstein’s paper in his 2010 piece for

Sunstein advocates that the Government’s stealth infiltration should be accomplished by sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups.” He also proposes that the Government make secret payments to so-called “independent” credible voices to bolster the Government’s messaging (on the ground that those who don’t believe government sources will be more inclined to listen to those who appear independent while secretly acting on behalf of the Government).   This program would target those advocating false “conspiracy theories,” which they define to mean: “an attempt to explain an event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role.”

This would be designed to increase citizens’ faith in government officials and undermine the credibility of conspiracists.

Whatever you may personally think about conspiracy theorists and the potential dangers they pose, it’s hard to believe that government infiltration and propagandizing is the correct response. (It’s somewhat hard to argue this sort of activity actually requires a response from the government at all.) Having someone with an inclination towards government-led espionage activities aimed at its own citizens on a surveillance review board isn’t exactly a comforting thought.

The final name on the list, Peter Swire, may be the only appointee to take on an actively adversarial role. Swire has long been an advocate for privacy, having served as the Chief Counselor for Privacy in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) during the Clinton administration.

More recently he has been very active working to achieve a global “Do Not Track” standard and has, over the past several years, written articles and given interviews critical of the agency’s activities, including co-signing an amicus brief arguing that the NSA’s telephone metadata program is illegal. He’s also been a longtime critic of parts of the PATRIOT Act. If anyone’s going to be advocating for privacy, it’s probably going to be Swire. Unfortunately, this may leave him as the odd man out.

On top of that, this board, composed mainly of government and surveillance proponents, will be reporting directly to confirmed liar James Clapper (the administration phrases it “reporting through“) who is or isn’t directly involved with the appointment process, depending on how you define the word “establish.”

I guess one (or 1.5, depending on Sunstein’s contribution) out of four is better than nothing. But by selecting intelligence officials and former administration staff members, Obama is (once again) sending the message that the “debate” will be still be very tightly controlled.

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Comments on “Administration's Surveillance Review Board Appointees Mostly Sympathetic Insiders”

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Anonymous Coward says:

surely no one expected any sort of balance or ability to go against the surveillance, did they? this administration appears to be even m,ore paranoid than the last one and that was way over the top!! when a ‘review board’ is made up of those that have/are working in security agencies running surveillance, you know that
a)there will be no review
b)anything that comes out will be nothing but lies and bullshit
c)the result will be that there is no surveillance going on that is against the law(they can ask the UK. they did the same over GCHQ!)
d)the surveillance will not stop
e)there are other things going on that the administration want to hide
f)there are other things that the administration want to get going
g)the whole country is going to turn to crap in a very short space of time

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I am pretty sure f) has a lot of merit. If Obama can get this group to suggest some more of the things he want NSA to have, it is a good opportunity.

Political stew:
? concession to improve transparency
? strenghtening of presidential power
1 removal of right to FOIA secret service activity
3 extra permanent funding to pay for the one-time changes to improve transparency
spice it up with small pieces of pork, according to your political liking.

Bake it in congress for half a year and sell it as a huge improvement on transparency.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

” this administration appears to be even more paranoid than the last one and that was way over the top!!”

Very true, but pause for a moment to consider the root of the paranoia for each administration.

The last administration was reeling from the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. That doesn’t make the systems set in place right or constitutional, but it does imply that fear of a foreign threat was the driving motivation of the last administration’s paranoia.

The current administration not only preserved and extended the apparatus installed by the previous administration, knowing it to be unconstitutional, but it has also mired itself in multiple scandals that call to question the very legitimacy of the current government. This administration’s paranoia isn’t rooted in fear of a foreign threat harming the country. It’s fear is that the American people will find out just how thoroughly criminal the current government is–top to bottom–and that the American people might just get riled up enough to join together and do something about it.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Moot point, the panel members don't matter

As long as the person they are reporting to is one involved in the crimes and abuses of power they are reviewing, it doesn’t matter who is on it; if they say all is good and no abuses found, it will be trumped as ‘effective oversight’ and ‘verification that things are working fine’ (similar to the FISA ‘court’), while if their reports show abuses or lawbreaking they will be buried or ignored.

Honestly with Clapper in the position that he’s in, the whole thing has been a farce from the get-go. It’s like investigating a police department for suspicion of unlawful activity and then reporting your findings to the police chief of that same department.

out_of_the_blue says:

"Mostly", eh? -- Wimpy inability to face facts.

The gov’t has become nothing but criminals protecting other criminals, while puppet “journalists” excuse the crimes in print.

And so long as you kids keep believing that some part of the gov’t isn’t totally and ruthlessly evil, it’s going to get worse.

The phony deal that evil people try to force on us: You can’t have the benefits of technology unless give up all privacy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "Mostly"?

It really doesn’t matter which people are in government. There is not political unicorn who will fix all the problems if we just find them and elect them to office (that was more or less the fiction sold to get Obama elected in the first place).

The issue remains vesting to much power in elected office. Abuses are inevitable. Jennifer Granick was quoted recently on this site as saying “I believe that power corrupts and that good people will do bad things when a system is poorly designed, no matter how well-intentioned they may be.” and she’s completely right and while she was talking about surveillance it actually applies to every government activity. Power corrupts and a system that vests to much power in an individual or tightly nit group is poorly designed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "Mostly", eh? -- Wimpy inability to face facts.

I’m curious which one of these facts you think people here aren’t facing. We point out that gov’t is criminal protecting other criminals all the time.

Strangely though you don’t have any problem with government largess or overreach when it comes to copyright enforcement, gleefully cheering on domain name seizures, courts creating new liability theories out of thin air, and even the use of deadly force against copyright violators.

Honestly blue, it’s like you’re two (maybe even three or four) different people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

There are many more senators who do not tow party-line on other issues.

When it comes to corrupt people, it is more than likely a problem of far too much of the competition being attritioned out economically and a general lack of people able to put up the money it would take to have a chance of winning the election! Most of it is likely happening in the primaries since elections are pretty one-sided in many places.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m still not seeing any credibility coming out of this. The EFF and ACLU should have been the ones appointing the panel, if restoring the people’s trust is ever going to happen.

Looks like the people’s trust will never be restored, given the current ‘insider’ panel. Not to mention they will be reporting to an alleged felonious liar, James Clapper.

Cowards Anonymous says:

Re: Re:

Jesse Ventura: It’s a conspiracy against the American people, the government doesn’t want you to know and I’m going to prove it!

(Government mole on TV crew gets outed by whistleblower.)

Jesse Ventura: See! I told you there was a conspiracy! They tried to silence us, but we caught them! CONSPIRACY!!!

(Jesse Ventura arrested by the FBI and tried for aiding “the enemy”.)

Anonymous Coward says:

This was already a foregone conclusion that nothing meaningful will be introduced by this committee.

After all, Obama clued you into that with naming Clapper at the very beginning. It was only after the hue and cry that came up the next day over having an insider in charge that the administration tried to make appearances of backing down.

But like so many other things, it is appearance only. This man has no intention of giving the public what it demands. It’s totally against what he is going to push for. How many examples do you need? Snowden? Manning? Transparency? Student loans?

It’s so bad that every thing that Obama claimed to stand for as a senator is exactly a 180 from what president Obama stands for. He’s not even interested in his own party unless it has it’s foot in his ass. He has not bothered to address his own party other than to use the time to block other less desirable events from happening.

This is a man totally disconnected from the US citizen, who does not say it but his actions do, that the little people and what they wish are totally beneath his dignity to respond to.

disposableidentity (profile) says:

Re: Get rid of the liars, then use our "checks & balances"

If they want to restore trust, they don’t need this panel.

The safest, most prudent thing at this point? Replace the leadership at the NSA with one who hasn’t already lied to us, have the new leadership fully brief Congress, and have the Supreme Court review intelligence programs and activities.

Not as a punitive measure, simply to assess the true state of affairs and restore trust in the agency and in the government.

If Congress and the Supreme Court are still satisfied with the programs — if agency activities are found to be truly necessary, and within the bounds of the law and constitution, they get to continue — no harm no foul.

If on the other hand the administration won’t replace the leaders, and won’t place the programs in front of the Supreme Court, well, there’s only one way to interpret that: the programs and activities must be illegal, unconstitutional and embarrassing to the government.

Rekrul says:

In other news, it was announced today that the chicken coop review board will be made up of Mr. Wolf, Mr. Coyote, Mr. Weasel and Mr. Ferret. As you’ll recall, this review board is being headed (but not run by) Mr. Fox. Farmer Brown didn’t seem especially thrilled with the members, but we’re assured by the guy in charge, Mr. Lion, that this will be a fair and impartial board.

Anonymous Coward says:

Really? Cass-fucking-Sunstein? Mr “cognitive infiltration of extremist groups” Sunstein?

Sunstein defined a conspiracy theory as ?an effort to explain some event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role.?

doesn’t that fit the NSA?

Sunstein argues the best government response to ?conspiracy theories? is ?cognitive infiltration of extremist groups.?

Continued Sunstein: ?We suggest a distinctive tactic for breaking up the hard core of extremists who supply conspiracy theories: cognitive infiltration of extremist groups, whereby government agents or their allies (acting either virtually or in real space, and either openly or anonymously) will undermine the crippled epistemology of believers by planting doubts about the theories and stylized facts that circulate within such groups, thereby introducing beneficial cognitive diversity.?

Great choice Mr. President!

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