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: civil liberties, david medine, drones, house intelligence committee, pclob, privacy

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2015 @ 7:32am

    THE PCLB should challenge the HIC to a duel to the death. With pillows. That might solve this ongoing problem of Terrorists in the House.

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