President Obama’s panel of independent experts to review surveillance efforts of the National Security Agency  is a sham, the Associated Press has concluded.
The AP’s journalists discovered that the panelists are far from independent, with all of them having ties to the administration or to a previous Democratic administration. Worse, the panel’s activities appear to be little more than window dressing designed to cover up what many believe are unconstitutional activities.
Some of the conclusions that can be drawn from the AP’s expose include:
- The panel’s staff works in offices shared with the office of the Director of National Intelligence.
- Press releases from the panel come through Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s press office.
- The official name of the group is “Director of National Intelligence Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies.” That suggests the group’s members were handpicked by Clapper.
- The meetings of the review group are secret and cannot be attended by the press or the public.
- The review group’s meetings with technology companies and other groups are closed to the public even when no classified information is discussed.
- Clapper went out of his way to get an exemption from normal federal rules to keep the meetings secret.
- The review group’s final report will have to be approved by President Obama before it is released to the public.
- All of the members of the review group are either former intelligence officials, political operatives or former political appointees in the Clinton, Obama and Bush administrations.
- An “independent member” of the review is Geoffrey Stone of the University of Chicago. Stone is the head of the committee laying the groundwork for Obama’s presidential library. Stone, a law professor, wrote an op-ed that claimed NSA  surveillance is constitutional.
“No one can look at this group and say it’s completely independent,” Sascha Meinrath, the director of the Open Technology Institute, a Washington think tank told the AP.
The AP’s findings contradict statements that Obama made about the group on Aug. 9, 2013. The president described the panel as an independent group and stated its purpose was to “maintain the trust of the people.”
Congress Preparing to Act
There are now 12 bills in Congress  that would curtail surveillance activities or increase government oversight of them, Mother Jones magazine noted. The one most likely to pass at least one body is the FISA Accountability and Privacy Protection Act of 2013, introduced by influential Senator Patrick Leahy (D.-Vermont).
This law would require regular audits of the requests for surveillance and the surveillance programs. It would also require the attorney general to submit regular reports on surveillance to Congress. The administration would be required to issue regular reports on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA Court and its activities to the public. FISA is the secret court that authorizes surveillance.
Patrick Leahy Says Surveillance Oversight No Longer Working
Leahy, who helped create the original FISA court in the 1970s, believes changes are needed to the court.
“I am convinced that the system set up in the 1970s to regulate the surveillance activities of our Intelligence Community is no longer working,” Patrick Leahy said in a speech at Georgetown University .
The FISA court was set up to authorize wiretaps on specific individuals, Leahy noted. The technology for mass surveillance did not exist when the original law governing FISA was written. It is now being asked to make decisions on mass surveillance affecting millions of people.
“In fact a whole body of secret law has developed, with considerable implications for our democracy,” Patrick Leahy said.