NSA review panel: Insiders or 'outside experts'?

The White House has reportedly picked the members of a panel that will review US intelligence and communications technologies. President Obama has asked the panel to issue a final report by year's end.

By , Staff writer

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    President Obama leaves after his news conference in the East Room at the White House in Washington at his Aug. 9 press conference. Obama said that to 'move the debate forward' on National Security Agency surveillance capabilities, he would appoint a high-level group of outside experts to review US intelligence and communications technologies.
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President Obama at his Aug. 9 press conference said that to “move the debate forward” on National Security Agency surveillance capabilities, he would appoint a high-level group of outside experts to review US intelligence and communications technologies.

This smart-person SWAT team will consider how to maintain the trust of the people in the intelligence programs, while making sure there is “absolutely” no abuse in terms of how those programs are used, Mr. Obama said.

“They will provide an interim report in 60 days and a final report by the end of this year, so that we can move forward with a better understanding of how these programs impact our security, our privacy, and our foreign policy,” he said.

Recommended: How well do you know the world of spying? Take our CIA and NSA quiz.

Sixty days is a tight time frame, so this panel needs to start work. According to ABC News, the White House has now picked its members. They are a group of veteran security experts and former White House officials, according to ABC.

The names mentioned are not really “outside” experts, according to some critics. They are people who have ties to many current programs and officials.

“Privacy advocates aren’t happy with the composition of the group revealed so far,” writes Andrea Peterson on The Washington Post’s “Switch” technology and policy blog.

According to ABC, members will include Michael Morell, a career intelligence officer who recently retired after serving as acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency; Richard Clarke, a former counterterrorism official in the Bush administration; Peter Swire, a former special assistant to Obama for economic policy; and Cass Sunstein, a legal scholar who until a year ago was the current administration’s regulatory czar.

Mr. Sunstein in particular is viewed with suspicion by some critics of NSA activities. In the past, he has advocated that the government “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites in the name of increasing confidence in government activities.

“Sunstein? Really?” writes NSA expert Marcy Wheeler in a critical post on her “emptywheel” blog.

The names published by ABC are not exactly diverse in terms of experience and generally have ties to the Obama administration, writes George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr on the legal blog “The Volokh Conspiracy.”

But it is likely that the administration needed people with preexisting security clearances to meet their challenging schedule. And “the group might be effective in the end, as they each bring a different skill set and perspective to the problem,” Mr. Kerr writes.

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