Obama’s picks for “outsider” NSA review — looks like the fix is in

Spy vs. Spy
Spy vs. Spy

This just in via ABC News blogger Mike Levine:

White House Picks Panel to Review NSA Programs

I don’t know whether ABC’s Mike Levine just rubber-stamped brief bios of the panel picks or if there were any degree of research done, but here’s what I’ve come up with regarding what President Obama refers to as “outside experts.”

Right off the bat, let’s look at one detail fairly well buried in Levine’s blog post at ABC.

In 60 days, the review panel will provide an interim report to the director of national intelligence, who will then brief the president on the panel’s findings.

Note how Levine fails to mention James Clapper by name. Isn’t that just a touch odd in an article about such a momentous occasion, especially an article rife with names, especially when the name omitted is that of someone folks on both the left and right would like to see, by respectable majorities, prosecuted for perjury? That James Clapper will receive the interim report and brief the President. Feel better yet?

So let’s take a closer look at these “outsider” panel picks.

Michael Morrell

ABC/Levine:

Morrell was acting director of the CIA until March, when John Brennan was sworn in as director.

Morrell has worked at the CIA since 1980, holding a variety of senior positions, according to the CIA. In fact, he was serving as President George W. Bush’s intelligence briefer on the day of the Sept. 11, 2011, attacks.

Independent citizen “journalist” (read: me):

Morrell’s bio at allgov.com had this to say:

Morell served as a presidential briefer, i.e., chief of the staff who presents the President’s Daily Brief, for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and he was with President Bush on September 11, 2001. After serving as executive assistant to CIA Director George J. Tenet, from 2003 to 2006, during which time the CIA was engaged in torture [emphasis added], Morell took a secret assignment overseas, including in London, UK.

Just peachy.

Things really start to get interesting at Wikipedia, though.  The Wikipedia article shows that Morrell only just recently retired from his post as Deputy Director of the CIA, and that he served as Acting Director twice. Why did her retire? According to Wikipedia, “to devote more time to his family and to pursue other professional opportunities.”

I did say that things only start to get interesting there, right?  What did The Atlantic Wire have to say about Morrell’s resignation? Oh, nothing much, certainly nothing to suggest that he resigned because of his role in deleting mentions of terrorism in the Benghazi talking points. Oh, wait. I lie. That’s exactly what the article is about.

My takeaway? This “outsider” was an insider to no less than three presidents and their intelligence apparatus. Those presidents can be fairly classified as “neoliberal,” “neoconservative,” and “neoliberal” respectively. Take that how you list. Oh, and torture! And Benghazi! I managed to collect this much less flattering info in a matter of minutes. I dread to think what I might find if I actually had a massive media outlet’s resources at my disposal.

Richard Clarke

ABC/Levine:

Richard Clarke served the last three presidents as a senior White House adviser, including as national coordinator for security and counterterrorism, according to his private security firm’s website. He became a vocal critic of the Bush administration, causing consternation in some Republican circles.

He has been an on-air consultant on terrorism for ABC News.

Citizen “journalist”:

Really, Levine?  That’s all you could come up with?  According to Wikipedia, Clarke is “the former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism for the United States.” He served under Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush. ABC’s blogger apparently loses track after three. To Clarke’s credit, he was critical of the Bush 43 administration for their approach to counter-terrorism and the war on Iraq. In all reality, Clarke may just be a bright spot on this panel. Then again, did he or did he not play a role in letting the bin Laden family out of the US on September 20, 2001? Would that matter? Does Clarke’s endorsement of President Obama for his second run at the White House compromise his impartiality? In any event, there’s a ton of information on Clarke, both laudatory and damning. ABC’s Levine doesn’t seem to think any of that relevant. Chalk this one up as another inside “outsider.”

Peter Swire

ABC/Levine:

Swire recently became a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. At the start of the Obama administration, he served as a special assistant to the president for economic policy and, during the Clinton administration, he served as the chief counselor for privacy.

Citizen “journalist”:

Swire, like Clarke, appears to be a good, if apparently unlikely, Obama pick for a place on the panel. Yet again, however, a not insignificant point here is Levine’s failure to do more by way of reportage. Another quick search on Wikipedia reveals more relevant information than ABC’s blogger does. Swire has served under two presidents, Clinton and Obama, sure. He’s an internationally recognized expert on privacy. He was instrumental in the creation of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. He’s actively involved in the development of the World Wide Web Consortium’s effort to mediate a global Do Not Track standard.

Further, Swire is actively antagonistic to NSA abuses of section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. According to Indiana University News Room, Peter Swire is a co-signer of an amicus brief urging SCOTUS to overturn the FISC authorization for the NSA to collect “”all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon,” including calls wholly within the U.S. and calls between the U.S. and abroad.” If President Obama is trying to create a stacked deck, he’s got a funny way of going about it.  Nevertheless, this outsider is still an inside job, and that keeps me leery.

Cass Sunstein

ABC/Levine:

Sunstein left the White House a year ago as President Obama’s so-called “regulatory czar,” returning to Harvard Law School, according to the Center for American Progress, where Sunstein is also a senior fellow. As President Obama’s administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Sunstein’s post was considered one of the most powerful in Washington, given its ability to shape how laws were implemented.

Again, this is all ABC’s Levine can come up with? Your friendly neighborhood citizen “journalist,” relying once again on the most cursory attempts at fact-finding, and doing so mainly via Wikipedia (a big no-no, right?) still managed to find this out…

“Some view him as liberal, despite Sunstein’s public support for George W. Bush’s judicial nominees Michael W. McConnell and John G. Roberts…”

Now hold on a cotton-pickin’ minute. Would that be THE Chief Justice John Roberts, who single-handedly, and with no oversight or confirmation process, picks all the FISA judges until he dies or retires? THAT John Roberts?

This is the same Sunstein that has said:

There is no reason to believe that in the face of statutory ambiguity, the meaning of federal law should be settled by the inclinations and predispositions of federal judges. The outcome should instead depend on the commitments and beliefs of the President and those who operate under him.

Can you say, “Unitary Executive?” Can you say, “Cheney?”

This is the same Sunstein who thinks that thinks, “in light of astonishing economic and technological changes, we must doubt whether, as interpreted, the constitutional guarantee of free speech is adequately serving democratic goals.” That’s right.  Our free speech needs fiddling and tweaking, and he’s just the guy to do it.

Straight from good ol’ Wikipedia, Sunstein thinks that:

“[T]here is a need to reformulate First Amendment law. He thinks that the current formulation, based on Justice Holmes’conception of free speech as a marketplace “disserves the aspirations of those who wrote America’s founding document.” The purpose of this reformulation would be to “reinvigorate processes of democratic deliberation, by ensuring greater attention [emphasis added] to public issues and greater diversity of views.”

Given some of his other views, I dread to think what Sunstein means by “ensuring greater attention.” A Clockwork Orange comes to mind. Oh, we don’t have to guess much. He just wants to nudge us, because what we need is more alternately neoconservative/neoliberal paternalism.

Last, but not least, (and remember, I barely even got my muckraking shovel dirty) Sunstein also thinks the government should “cognitively infiltrate” anti-government groups. That’s right, this guy, in a time of IRS ham-fisted SNAFUs, will have a say in the reports that go through the Official Liar Clapper before landing in Obama’s Chicago School lap.

My count?  Four insiders and one that’s so inside he could Tweet pictures of Obama’s appendix.  My gut instincts?  2 for the NSA programs, 2 against, and a ref who guarantees the fix is in.

Now, lest I show up to the choir only singing in my bitchy, whiny voice, I’d like to propose a completely different solution to this really tough problem of picking real outsiders in a way that might actually cause citizens to trust the government a bit more.  You know, exactly in a way that President Obama fails to do.  It’s simple.

We’ve got 50 states.  We’ve got 50 governors.  Each governor vets and nominates a candidate for the panel.  The governors then have a meeting (teleconference using AT&T would be AWESOME, right?) to vote on six.  The US House gets to pick one.  The US Senate gets to pick one.  These eight, if qualified, get the necessary clearances.  POTUS gets one.  Whatever comes out of such a group would almost necessarily be bi-partisan.  At the very least, it would create a tremendous appearance of genuine accountability to the people.

So what about it, ABC? You guys hiring? I know a guy who at least knows where the hell to find Wikipedia and Google when doing a quick and dirty takedown on a topic.

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Image credit: Spy vs. Spy by tr.robinson @ flikr.com. Licensed under Creative Commons.

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