Great news: Surveillance review panel stacked with intel leaders and WH staffers

Don’t you feel more confident in our NSA overlords already?  ABC and the Washington Post finds a number of familiar names on the panel created by Barack Obama to review the surveillance activities of the NSA and American intelligence in general.  In fact, you could call them the usual suspects:

A group of veteran security experts and former White House officials has been selected to conduct a full review of U.S. surveillance programs and other secret government efforts disclosed over recent months, ABC News has learned.

The recent acting head of the CIA, Michael Morell, will be among what President Obama called a “high-level group of outside experts” scrutinizing the controversial programs.

Joining Morell on the panel will be former White House officials Richard Clarke, Cass Sunstein and Peter Swire. An announcement is expected Thursday, a source with knowledge of the matter told ABC News’ Jon Karl.

The Post’s Andrea Peterson reports that privacy advocates are less than impressed:

Privacy advocates aren’t happy with the composition of the group revealed so far. Some privacy groups believe that the White House will insist on all members having top secret clearances, effectively barring most independent privacy watchdogs from consideration for the panel. …

Michael Morell was a career intelligence officer, serving in the CIA for 33 years. He retired from his position as deputy director of the CIA earlier this year after serving two stints as the agency’s acting head during President Obama’s tenure.

Sunstein and and Swire are both former Obama administration White House staffers. Cass Sunstein left his position as the administrator of the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in 2012, while Swire served on the Obama-Biden Transition team and as special assistant to president Obama for economic policy. Swire currently teaches at the Scheller College of Business at Georgia Tech. He previously worked in the Clinton White House where he chaired a working group on how to update wiretap laws for the Internet and has a high profile in privacy policy circles.

Richard Clarke is a former national coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism for the United States. He worked for the State Department during the Reagan administration and served on the National Security Council during the presidencies of George H.W. Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush. Clarke also endorsed then-Sen. Obama’s presidential campaign in 2007.

Yes, nothing says transparency that appointing some of your friends and staffers to review your performance.  Morrell and Clarke are longtime establishment figures, but Sunstein is in a class by himself.  Don’t forget that Sunstein once suggested that government covertly disseminate propaganda to combat narratives it finds inconvenient.  In fact, as Glenn Greenwald himself noted in January 2010, Sunstein “propos[ed] that the U.S. Government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-”independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites — as well as other activist groups — which advocate views that Sunstein deems “false conspiracy theories” about the Government.”

Well, that’s a real confidence-builder, isn’t it?  We’re asking the man who, theoretically at least, proposed covertly infiltrating opposition groups in order disseminate administration-serving propaganda to provide us with greater transparency on government operations. What could go wrong?

And why no privacy advocates, at least thus far?  In one sense, that’s easy.  Regardless of what one thinks of the NSA’s domestic surveillance activities, they have a key role in signals intelligence and what they do needs to be highly classified.  People who spend their days issuing press releases are not exactly low security risks.  However, there have to be some people who can pass a top-secret clearance and can be trusted to provide the kind of input needed to give this panel some balance.  At least at the moment, the White House doesn’t seem to be terribly concerned about providing that kind of balance, which tells us most of what we need to know about their intentions for this panel.

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