ODNI official: Transparency will be slow, difficult

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The head of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence's civil liberties office said the transition to a more transparent intelligence community will be slow.

"The intelligence community is not designed and built for transparency. We're designed and built for the opposite," said Alexander Joel, the ODNI's civil liberties protection officer. He spoke on a panel at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies Dec. 4.

Transparency will require a shift in culture, resources, and skill sets that won't come naturally or quickly, Joel said, asking for patience from the public.

"That's just not what we hire people for. We hire people to be unobtrusive and quiet, and fade into the background, and avoid answering questions," he added.

Joel and another panelist, John DeLong, the National Security Agency's chief compliance officer, staunchly defended the intelligence community's broad surveillance.

DeLong said that leaks from Edward Snowden may misrepresent the current reality at the NSA. Some of the documents are several years old, and DeLong said the NSA had taken steps to strengthen its compliance with the law since then, though he didn't go into detail.

Steven Aftergood, a transparency advocate who directs the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, voiced some optimism about the chance for more transparency, noting how in October the White House touted how much information it had declassified about the NSA.

The government has realized there are advantages to transparency, Aftergood said. It can gain credibility through a willingness to be open, and it can add context to its actions that leaks might lack.

"I think it's the task of people like myself to sell this newfound appreciation for declassification, and to argue that it can be applied in other contexts as well, whether it's targeted killings, whether it's the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo," he said.

He added that while the intelligence committees in Congress can sometimes suffice as oversight, they were inadequate in the case of the NSA's massive surveillance programs.

The members of those committees had presumed a consensus in the United States in support of broad surveillance authority, and the outcry that followed Snowden's leaks revealed to them that they were wrong, he said.

For more:
- go to the event webpage (webcast available)

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