President Obama has appointed James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence who was recently caught misleading Congress about the extent of NSA surveillance, as the head of the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies that will investigate the agency.
The president announced the review of US surveillance practices and legislation on Friday, including the appointment of a panel of "outside experts" who would investigate the scope of the NSA's spying capabilities and suggest new ideas. His decision to appoint Clapper to run the review board has left privacy advocates dismayed.
"In President Obama's announcement he called for both an 'independent' and 'outside' investigation. A task force that is appointed and overseen by the individual who is carrying out the domestic spying is the exact opposite," EFF policy analyst Mark Jaycox told The Register.
"Every week new details come to light about misconstrued statements from the leaders of the intelligence community and new details on even more spying. Congress must reassert its oversight role by setting up a special investigatory committee or independent investigation."
Clapper was caught out being "economical with the truth" in March, when he was asked by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) in congressional hearings if the NSA was collecting data on millions of Americans – a question Wyden had given to Clapper 24 hours in advance, as is usual for such official meetings.
Clapper said "no," (6:52 in the video, above) but weeks later, after Edward Snowden began leaking information about the activities of the intelligence services, he was forced to apologize (in a way) by saying that his response was technically correct. The issue was one of semantics in how you interpreted the meaning of the word "collect," he suggested.
Clapper has now been tasked by the president to set up a team of experts who will examine "whether, in light of advancements in communications technologies, the United States employs its technical collection capabilities in a manner that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust."
That mission statement differs somewhat from what Obama promised on Friday. At his White House press conference, the president said the team would be investigating any possible abuse of the system by government or contractors, but that appears to have dropped off the list of things to look at.
Clapper will review the evidence from the remaining unnamed team of independent experts and edit it into a report for the president within the next 60 days, with a full analysis due by the end of the year. ®