Former CIA Director Morell Skips Surveillance Review Board Meeting; Pats Self On Back For Not 'Distracting' Congress From Shutdown
from the taking-one-for-the-team dept
Former CIA director Michael Morell has decided that the Surveillance Review Board (SRB) shouldn’t meet again until the government shutdown is over. The board met last Tuesday with members of the Senate and Congress, but Morell opted out and took his high horse out for a spin.
“I simply thought that it was inappropriate for our group to continue working while the vast majority of the men and women of the intelligence community are being forced to remain off the job,” Morell said Saturday in response to a query from POLITICO. “While the work we’re doing is important, it is no more important than – and quite frankly a lot less important – than a lot of the work being left undone by the government shutdown, both in the intelligence community and outside the intelligence community.”
Showing solidarity for furloughed government workers would be somewhat admirable if a) he hadn’t decided to speak for the board and declare its work unimportant and b) he had been a bit more of an active participant in the first set of meetings.
The debut of the SRB featured a pair of meetings. The first meeting, held at the White House and featuring mainly by tech industry lawyers, was attended by Morell. The second meeting, held a few blocks away from the White House and featuring representatives from civil liberties groups like ACLU and EPIC, was skipped by Morell (and former Bush anti-terrorism chief Richard Clarke).
Arguably, the SRB shouldn’t have to miss any meetings. Certainly, representatives from the intelligence community should be available. The Pay Our Military Act (POMA), which was rushed through the House and the Senate last week, authorized the uninterrupted payment nearly all civilian Defense personnel, under which the NSA’s civilian workers fall. (So much for Morell’s laborious lament that so many in the intelligence community are “forced to remain off the job…”) The SRB reports directly to James Clapper, meaning it would fall under this purview as well. But that ultimately doesn’t matter as the board is unpaid. The travel expenses, however, are no longer covered.
Despite being a day into the shutdown, the panel met last Tuesday — without Morell.
The Review Group’s meeting with Congressional leaders on Tuesday went forward without Morell. Feinstein and the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, attended the session, according to a Senate aide. House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) also took part, a House aide confirmed.
Morell said part of his decision to bow out last week was driven by the desire not to distract members of Congress and their staff from what he believes should be their No. 1 priority. “I just firmly felt Congress should be focused on one thing and one thing only, which is ending the shutdown,” he said.
Once the government is back up and running, it will be interesting to see if Morell can come up with more excuses to stay disengaged from the SRB. So far, he’s skipped two out of the first three meetings — not exactly a sign he’s thrilled with the position. But, as Morell takes pains to point out, this isn’t (just) because he doesn’t think the SRB has an important job to do, it’s that there’s so much more out there that deserves time, attention and money.
“How could this be more important than kids starting cancer trials at NIH?” Morell asked.
Ah, cancer: the Hitler of the pathology field. Nothing shuts down an argument no one was making like comparing Pursuit A with “curing cancer.” I don’t think anybody implied the SRB’s work was more important than treating and studying cancer, especially picturesque, tear-jerking kid cancer. In fact, I find it hard to believe anyone did anything more than ask Morell why he didn’t attend Tuesday’s meeting. But let’s spin that for second: is returning hundreds of NSA and CIA civilian contractors to work more important than starting pediatric cancer trials? If not, then maybe Morell should use his free time to hassle every single member of the House and Senate for passing POMA rather than finding a way to restart the government or secure funding for cancer trials.
I don’t mind if the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and SRB have to take time off during the government shutdown. It’s somewhat annoying that the surveillance will continue unabated (including domestic surveillance) but “national security” continues to trump everything, so it’s hardly a surprise. What bothers me is when someone clearly uninterested in the job at hand portrays it as though his self-serving absence is borne of clarity, objectiveness and vast stores of empathy. It’s even more annoying when the portrayal trots out “poor furloughed government workers” and “pediatric cancer” as set dressing.