White House NSA surveillance board heavy on the Washington insiders


President Obama's picks for a five member group tasked with reviewing National Security Agency surveillance has drawn criticism over its insider-heavy composition.

The group is one of a handful of Obama administration reactions to revelations of widespread surveillance of telephone records and Internet communications caused by the leaking of classified documents by former intelligence community contractor Edward Snowden.

Its members are Richard Clarke, Michael Morell, Geoffrey Stone, Cass Sunstein and Peter Swire, the White House said in an Aug. 27 statement after news of the members, excepting Geoffrey Stone, leaked to the press.

"The picks show that the president's commitment to having 'independent' and 'outside experts' review the spying programs is false," Mark Jaycox, a policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Ars Technica.  "All the picks are thorough Washington insiders."

"It's not exactly a list of "outside" experts," echoed Georgetown law professor Orin Kerr in a Volokh Conspiracy blog post.

Richard Clark was a counter-terrorism official under during the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush who has since made what critics say are alarmist warnings about cyberterrorism. Michael Morrell retired in August from the position of acting director of the CIA. Geoffrey Stone is a University of Chicago law professor and a former colleague of Obama; the Washington Post says Stone has criticized the president for not scaling back Bush-era policies on government transparency.

Cass Sunstein headed up the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs until mid-2012 and also knows Obama from when he was a University of Chicago professor.

Peter Swire is a privacy expert and affiliated with the Center for Democracy and Technology and Center for American Progress, and author of a history of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Group members "will bring a range of experience and perspectives to bear to advise the President on how, in light of advancements in technology, the United States can employ its technical collection capabilities in a way that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while respecting our commitment to privacy and civil liberties," the White House said in its statement.

"I imagine that Swire will be the civil libertarian, Sunstein the pragmatist interested in the facts, and Clarke the government's guy. (I don't know anything about Morrell beyond his resume, so I wouldn't want to speculate how he will fit in.)" Kerr wrote.

For more:
- go to the White House statement

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