Obama’s Independent NSA Review Panel Not So Independent After All

President Obama promised an NSA review panel months back, the job of which would be to make sure that abuses to American privacy weren’t too abusive. Critics hated the idea and argued that such a panel fails to address complaints against the NSA’s domestic spying programs (namely, that they exist) and wondered how faithfully the government would be able to hold itself accountable.

Those critics will now be happy to know that the answer seems to be: Not very faithfully at all.

The Associated Press reports that the Obama-selected panel of “independent experts” meant to watch the NSA’s surveillance programs to make sure they weren’t violating our rights too badly, and to restore our trust in the “transparent model” of government does none of those things.

Why? Because that panel is basically an arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. You know, the boss of the NSA and all other US spy efforts. Even worse, the DNI is running the panel’s media strategy and vetting questions for the “independent” panel through its own press office.

This would be like if President Obama asked Attorney General Eric Holder to personally investigate whether or not an ongoing investigation of his violated the law. Wait, that actually did happen.

So no, this isn’t an independent board of civil rights watchdogs. This is the NSA being told to make sure that the NSA doesn’t doing anything unethical or (gasp) unconstitutional.

Somehow making maters worse, TechCrunch notes that the “independent” panel’s first report on the NSA is due on the public’s desk soon. Before it gets to us, however, it has to pass White House approval.

I know what you’re thinking. “But what about laws that require federal committees to conduct their business and meetings in ways the public can observe?” DNI head James Clapper exempted the panel from that rule, so… yeah.

I could probably be clever about this, but I prefer Alex Wilhelm’s one-two punch on the issue. He said it better than I, or anyone, could say:

” ‘We need new thinking for a new era,’ the president stated when announcing that the panel would be formed. We do, he’s correct. But when those hired to think are old friends of either the agency in question or former associates of its boss (the president), and whose thoughts are potentially withheld from the public, we don’t make any progress at all.

The point of hiring ‘outsiders’ to vet the NSA and our lager surveillance activities is that they don’t have allegiance to the folks inside. We didn’t get that. But to top that failure off by absconding the panel behind the very curtains it was supposed to cast open is simply disgraceful.

Do you think that the NSA review panel represents a conflict of interest?