I wrote the other day that the promises that President Obama made last week about greater transparency were mostly hollow, especially the appointment of a commission to study the problem. Such commission are a political black hole. But it turns out that his “independent” commission won’t be independent at all:
Today, the president formally ordered the formation of this group, giving us a sense for just how independent the group would be. The announcement doesn’t inspire confidence that the president is interested in truly independent scrutiny of the nation’s surveillance programs.
The panel will be chosen by, and report to, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Clapper famously answered “no sir” when Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked whether the NSA collects information about millions of Americans. Clapper has since conceded that this answer was “clearly erroneous.”
And there are other signs that the group won’t turn out quite the way the president described it on Friday. Friday’s speech talked about the need for input from outside experts with independent points of view. The president made no mention of the need for outsiders or independent viewpoints in his memo to Clapper.
The stated mission of the group has also shifted. On Friday, Obama said the group would examine “how we can maintain the trust of the people, how we can make sure that there absolutely is no abuse.” But today’s memo makes no mention of preventing abuses. Instead, it will examine whether US surveillance activity “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.”
So he has managed to make the inherently meaningless gesture of creating a blue ribbon commission even more meaningless, almost before the ink is try on the news reports about his promises. And he’s put the guy who runs the current surveillance program and a confirmed liar to head the group. Anyone who is the least bit shocked by this simply hasn’t been paying attention.