Clapper Won't Be Overseeing Surveillance Review, Though That May Just Be a Small Comfort

A review of the NSA's surveillance managed by the executive branch can't really be called "independent"


Stay out of the henhouse, please. Thanks.
Credit: Medill DC / Foter / CC BY

Apparently, though President Barack Obama sent Director of National Intelligence James Clapper a memo to establish a group to review the National Security Agency's surveillance policies and provide recommendations for reform, this doesn't mean that Clapper will be directly involved or in charge. So the White House is telling The Hill anyway:

"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. 

"The members will have access to classified information so they need to be administratively attached to a government element but the review process and findings will be their own," Turner said. 

Privacy activists responded in shock at the idea that Clapper would oversee this process, given that he was caught, at the very least, giving an extremely misleading response to Sen Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) about the extent of the NSA's collection of information about Americans' communications.

But even knowing he's not directly in charge may not ease fears that this group could possibly operate independently, given that the executive branch is putting it together in the first place:

Amie Stepanovich, an attorney for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said she still doubts the group can be independent with Clapper playing a central coordinating role.

"It's just inherently not independent, and it's not likely to solicit any meaningful results," she said.

She noted that Clapper has apologized for stating in a Senate hearing in March that the NSA does not collect any data on millions of people in the United States. The NSA has since acknowledged collected records on virtually all U.S. phone calls.

Clapper said his answer was the "least untruthful" one he could give at the time.

"We have a man who has confessed to lying to Congress, and in doing so, he has publicly exhibited his disdain for the oversight process that he is now coordinating," Stepanovich said.

In case anybody missed it, here's the exchange in question: