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.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2013 @ 10:56am

    It is surely worrying for all Americans that during this shutdown period it cannot be guaranteed that their private calls are being listened to or their emails and text messages being read.
    Rest assured though, once the shutdown ends the backlog will be cleared and spying will be back at levels that even the soviet union could only aspire to.
    It would certainly be inappropriate in to consider whether their is too much or too little surveillance at a point when surveillance is at its most minimal in over 12 years, what if that was considered too much. Unconscionable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2013 @ 11:00am

    I bet the whole "shutdown" deal is doing wonders for your "national security".

    Frankly, I find it idiotic that the US doesn't have a simple "if budget is not ready on time then Nuke government and try again" condition like any sane government does.

    Instead, you get a bunch of old men playing power games with the lives of 300 million people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2013 @ 11:15am


    If a Government Shutdown is code for... "An unchecked government trampling its citizens rights," then maybe this is why Obama doesn't want to negotiate?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2013 @ 4:57pm

      Re: So...If a Government Shutdown is code for... "An unchecked government trampling its citizens rights,

      No. Actually, it's been code for lots of dedicated people doing thankless jobs, being told not to come to work.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 7 Oct 2013 @ 10:45pm

      Re: So...

      Curious, you make a claim that "obama is unwilling to negotiate".

      Obama has 'negotiated' the delay of the Affordable Care Act when it was attached to 'must pass' legislation several times. So now the Republican leadership, after failing to repeal the ACA through normal channels 42 times, first declared that they required the 'defunding' of the ACA, and then 'backed down' to a 'reasonable' stance of removing a tax to pay for the ACA, combined with spending another year to attempt to fully defund it.

      By starting out outrageous and then 'backing down', you can get what you want and claim you 'negotiated' when in reality your real stance was the negotiated settlement. This is the republican strategy. Keep delaying the cost controlling benefits of the ACA and it's requirements all while telling people the ACA is raising your rates. Finally get enough support to repeal.

      The Republican leadership is not negotiating in good faith. When Obama and the democrats have offered to consider amending sections of the ACA, Republicans have refused. Republicans have directly stated they hooked this to 'must pass' legislation so people who otherwise would say no would say yes. That is not negotiating. That is hanging sword of damocles over the american people and telling congress to do what the republicans want. Or else.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2013 @ 12:19pm


    So some of the review board members dont know the purpose of the review, they want to skip meetings. To present a report that clears the nsa of wrongdoing, for that the board needs to presnt an image of caring. as the weeks drag by the scandle grows, when this board presents its report it needs to be taken seriously. board members need to be seen to be working. if the board looks like a joke, the NSA can't get a whitewash. the public need someone punished, as well, alexander has gotten himself too well known to be run a spy agency.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2013 @ 1:09pm

    Is Morell claiming that he missed those meetings because he was helping 'kids starting cancer trials at NIH'?

    I'm sure they are *really* grateful for all the help that only he could provide.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2013 @ 3:02pm


    It's a shame Morell doesn't understand that different congressional committees handle those other priorities. He should really focus on his job and let others focus on theirs. It's scary he is in his position and doesn't understand this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Torg (profile), 9 Oct 2013 @ 12:37pm

    I don't think you're being fair to Morell here. As far as I can tell he's telling the complete truth. There is no doubt in my mind that he considers the Surveillance Review Board's work to be a lot less important than the continued operation of the National Park Service's website, and I'm sure he'd very much like Congress to be focused entirely on something that isn't reviewing surveillance. You have to at least give him some credit for how he isn't pretending to care about oversight anymore.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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