President Barack Obama was widely ridiculed last week for his latest effort to quiet public unrest over his massive warrantless surveillance programs. As we discussed, Obama made statements on the program and Snowden that were disengenuous at best and viewed by civil libertarians as facially dishonest. His main “reform” was the rather laughable suggestion that his Administration, once again, would review itself and he would create yet another hand-picked committee to monitor his unchecked authority. While some of us said that Obama’s comments showed almost open contempt for the intelligence of the public and the independence of the press, nothing prepared us this week for his announcement on who would head the review: National Intelligence Chief John Clapper. That’s right. Clapper, the man who admitted to lying before Congress on these programs and has been protected by Congress and Attorney General Eric Holder from a perjury charge. The White House announced Clapper’s selection on Monday and Clapper issued a statement announcing his intention to find a way to preserve national security while “maintaing the public trust.” On Tuesday, the outcry over Clapper’s selection led the White House to try to backpedal and explain this insulting appointment. The White House now says that Clapper will not “lead” the panel and that it will remain “independent” even with his looming presence.
It was the latest outrage from America’s new Animal Farm system. His selection shows the low level of respect for voters in this city and the virtual absence of any fear of confrontation by either Congress or the press in this Administration. It is, to put it simply, a disgrace. Rather than being charged with a virtual admission of perjury, Clapper will review the very programs that he lied about. He is also the person who has been overseeing and using these programs.
What is most unnerving is that Obama is not even trying to make a serious effort at evasion. He simply wants to create some review that can be cited by congressional allies as an excuse for not taking any action in the face of the erosion of privacy.
Clapper said that he will head the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies which will “assess 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.” The wording is telling. Notice how national security is the primary of focus and privacy is not even directly mentioned. Rather, it is part of a secondary category of risks and concerns over the public trust. Indeed, it seems that “maintaing the public trust” is the more pressing concern as it was with Obama’s comments. Obama insisted that if he had simply created this meaningless committee before the recent scandals, the public would not have been upset by the Snowden affair. The panel will restore public trust by being a panel committed to restoring the public trust.
Once again, the White House seemed entirely surprised that anyone in the media or public would object to a plan of the President. The White House on Tuesday back pedaled and insisted that Clapper would not run the entire show and would have limited powers as part of this overall review. Instead, the Administration insisted that “the panel members are being selected by the White House, in consultation with the intelligence community.” Now that’s a closed circle. The panel will be selected by the White House accused abusive surveillance in consultation with the community accused of carrying out the abusive surveillance. I can see why the White House seems so surprised by the response. Why on Earth wouldn’t the public trust be maintained?