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.

Filed Under: barack obama, independent review, james clapper, nsa, nsa surveillance


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  1. identicon
    Jose_X, 19 Aug 2013 @ 3:26pm

    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"?

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