House Intelligence Committee Trying To Block Privacy & Civil Liberties Board From Doing Its Job

from the well-isn't-that-great dept

The House Intelligence Committee is supposed to be providing “oversight” of the intelligence community and preventing it from violating our civil rights. That’s why it was formed in the first place, out of the Pike Committee, when Congress actually investigated abuses by the NSA, CIA and FBI. But, over the decades, the House Intelligence Committee has, instead, turned into a cheerleader for the intelligence community and seems to work to better hide its activities from the public, rather than oversee them. That’s part of the reason why we now have a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) who is actually supposed to be investigating these programs and protecting our civil liberties.

Thus, it should come as little surprise that the House Intelligence Committee is trying to stop the PCLOB from doing its job, and has come up with the pettyist of petty reasons for doing so: it’s upset about an opinion piece that was written by the PCLOB’s chairperson.

Back in April, PCLOB chair David Medine criticized the lack of oversight concerning the use of military drones. That opinion piece argued:

Now is the time to address the questions President Obama has raised. We must seize the opportunity to institutionalize a more transparent and dispassionate process, defend the hallmarks of due process, and affirm that neither the executive branch nor U.S.-born terrorists are outside the law. We recommend a fine-tuned version of the second approach raised by President Obama: an independent, executive branch review panel designated to assess the evidence against proposed targets and make non-binding recommendations to the President as to whether the targeting is appropriate before efforts are made to kill the targets. One candidate for such a panel is the existing Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent, bipartisan agency in the executive branch.

In short, a fairly modest request: if we’re going to be droning people — including American citizens, shouldn’t there at least be some oversight? To the House Intelligence Committee, however, apparently this is sacrilege. Thus, punishment in the form of blocking the PCLOB from having the power to review any information concerning covert actions by the US government:

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, upset by an opinion piece penned by the chairman of a government watchdog on privacy issues, have advanced a measure to block the agency?s access to information related to U.S. covert action programs.

The provision, in the 2016 intelligence authorization bill, takes a jab at the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent executive branch agency whose job is to ensure that the government?s efforts to prevent terrorism are balanced with the need to protect privacy and civil liberties.

In other words, because the chair of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversght Board expressed some concerns about the impact on civil liberties of a “covert” (ha ha) program, the House Intelligence Committee has blocked it from investigating any further. How is this “oversight” by the House Intelligence Committee and not “covering up”? Of course, they’re coming up with all sorts of silly excuses about how this is about keeping the PCLOB from straying outside its mandate:

That article ?really stirred the pot,? said one congressional aide, who like others interviewed for this article was not authorized to speak for the record. The committee majority saw that suggestion, along with other reviews the board was undertaking, the aide said, as ?mission creep.?

The provision, which the committee passed on a voice vote last week, was an attempt by Republicans to make sure the board members ?stay in their lane,? as another aide put it. ?Covert action, by its very definition, is an activity that the United States cannot and should not acknowledge publicly,? the committee?s chairman, Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), said. ?Review of such activity is ill-suited for a public board like the PCLOB.?

Yes, but the drone program has been acknowledged publicly, and why does that even matter when we’re discussing the privacy and civil liberties impact of these programs?

And, why have we allowed our elected officials to become the enablers of civil liberties abuses, rather than the protectors of civil liberties?

Filed Under: , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “House Intelligence Committee Trying To Block Privacy & Civil Liberties Board From Doing Its Job”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:


It’s all about manipulation. My cat told me so. No seriously, take a look:

I stretched and stood up from my computer where I had been reading and commenting at one of my favorite websites. The afternoon was aging, and I was thirsty. I intended to go down to a local bodega and get a six pack, so I removed my tinfoil hat (kids always point and laugh at me, but the grownups understand, I know they do) and tossed it on the table. At that point, seeing the shiny object coming to rest, my cat attacked it and began tearing it to pieces. I sighed and thanked the foresight I’d had in recently purchasing several rolls of foil (heavy duty, of course) as backup. As the cat finished shredding the hat, she leaped up to one of her favorite resting places, raised a leg and began licking that unmentionable place beneath her tail.

When she finished that chore, she looked at me with one of those imperious looks that cats are so good at and clearly said “You humons just don’t get it. We felines do, and that is why we are in charge. We appreciate your feeding us and giving us shelter and all these comfortable places to sleep, but we only tolerate you because you do. You think you love us, but love is not a concept that we comprehend, so when you think we are returning that love what we are really doing is congratulating you for behaving as we want you to.

It is the same thing with what you call government. You think you elect your officials to represent you and rule over you justly, but what you are really doing is replacing the automatons that wear out with fresh ones that perform as we dictate to them. You think of yourself as our masters when in reality it is we that master you, just like those automatons in government. They give you rules and you scurry around trying to obey them while they continue creating rules at such a rate that there is no possibility of compliance. We direct this activity in such a way that in the end you have no choice but to obey, and feed us. Those automatons are so easy to manipulate that all it takes is placing one of our fellow felines into only ten percent of their homes, and our saturation is much greater than that. The entire mass of elected humon automatons are within our control, and we tell them to keep you busy obeying silly laws, and feeding us.

Now, rub my belly for exactly one minute and thirty seven seconds and then leave me alone, it is almost time for my next nap.”

Of course I complied and got nipped at because I went to one minute and thirty eight seconds. As I walked down to the bodega I thought about a new design for my next tinfoil hat. I appreciated the opportunity provided by my cat regularly destroying the current copy as I was able to experiment with new designs, both for effectiveness and for appearance, as fashions change over time.

So you see, it is all about manipulation. My cat told me so.*

*(I had a dream (appologies to Dr. King, but not his offspring) and when I arose from my nap I went to the computer and typed out the above. I have no idea where that came from, but I cannot seem to remember what I had for lunch. I have the strangest feeling though, that I should not have that lunch ever again.)

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

It's an excuse

The problem with PCLOB is that it oversees secret surveillance programs. Citizens are concerned about those programs, and if HIC “punished” PCLOB for serving that role, there would be a political scandal.

But right now, there is little general concern about drones, which are largely perceived to be a “foreign thing”. So PCLOB’s letter on drone oversight provides a suitable non-surveillance excuse to pull PCLOB’s teeth.

HIC would have had done the same if PCLOB’s letter had suggested oversight of beach sand.

Gary Mont (profile) says:

Fighting Fascism 101

“And, why have we allowed our elected officials to become the enablers of civil liberties abuses, rather than the protectors of civil liberties?”

A very good question.

Here’s a better one.

Is there anything the US public can do to prevent our elected officials from becoming the enablers of civil liberties abuses, rather than the protectors of civil liberties?

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...