Shutdown Helps NSA Shed Even Pretense of Surveillance Oversight Efforts

Clapper flip-flops, furloughs workers


The eagle also provides an essential government service and has not been furloughed.
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James Clapper, director of national intelligence, made a great big deal at a hearing last week about the shutdown affecting work at the National Security Agency and having to furlough 70 percent of civilian workers. Those were the civilian workers, not the full staff. NSA surveillance is still going on.

Andrea Peterson at the Washington Post crunched the numbers the best she could (because the actual total of NSA employees is classified) and based on what little has been said, she calculated that about 15 percent of the NSA's full staff of employees has been furloughed.

But, even though the NSA is still at work, that not-exactly-independent, not-necessarily-reform-minded surveillance evaluation team the White House put together is not meeting, because of the shutdown. Peterson reports:

While the National Security Agency (NSA) has largely escaped the government shutdown, the panel investigating NSA spying practices has effectively been frozen. Politico reports that as of Friday, the five-member Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies lost its staff to the furlough associated with the government shutdown.

The group, which is largely comprised of intelligence community and White House insiders, was initially scheduled to remain running during the furlough. However, former acting CIA director Michael Morell declined to attend a scheduled meeting Tuesday, citing the shutdown: "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."

By Friday, the office of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, which is facilitating the panel, reversed course and determined that panel members' staff should be furloughed, according to Politico's sources. While in theory the members are unpaid, so the panel could continue without support staff or payment for travel expenses, that seems unlikely.

Morell's comments and completely symbolic gesture don't exactly inspire any sort of faith in this group. Clapper's flip-flopping on furloughing the staff that assisted the review team is also pretty telling.