President Barack Obama announced in August that the unauthorized disclosure
of national security documents and the subsequent discussions it
sparked warranted the creation of an independent panel, the
Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies.
“The Review Group 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 president said
two months ago.
Practically one week before a 60-day deadline to deliver a report
to the White House, however, the group has put itself on ice.
Politico’s Josh Gerstein and Mike Allen reported over the weekend
that one member of the five-personal panel – former Central
Intelligence Agency director Michael Morell – decided to pull the
plug on the board until the government shutdown that started last
Tuesday morning comes to a close.
“I simply thought that it was inappropriate for our group to
continue working while the vast majority of the men and women of
the intelligence community are being forced to remain off the
job,” Morell told Politico on Saturday. “While the work
we’re doing is important, it is no more important than – and
quite frankly a lot less important – than a lot of the work being
left undone by the government shutdown, both in the intelligence
community and outside the intelligence community.”
“How could this be more important than kids starting cancer
trials at NIH?”Morell asked the DC-based news outlet,
referring to another government program that was put on hold when
the federal shutdown started last week.
On day two of the shutdown last Wednesday, Director of National
Intelligence James Clapper told lawmakers at a Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act oversight hearing that he
couldn’t guarantee the safety of the American
people amid the shutdown, as furloughs caused roughly 70 percent
of the US intelligence community’s civilian workforce to be
shuttered until the government is up and running again.
During that same hearing, Clapper said that leaked national
security documents – a whole trove that has steadily been
circulated among the media by former contractor Edward Snowden
starting this past June – has jeopardized the safety of the US as well.
“People’s lives are at risk here because of data that Mr.
Snowden purloined,” Clapper said.
But whereas the commander-in-chief created a review panel to see
if the programs publicized by Mr. Snowden should be scaled back,
100 percent of that board is on break while the intelligence
community continues to operate, at least in part. Although
Clapper said that 70 percent of the intelligence community’s
civilian workers were furloughed as of last week, National
Security Agency Director Keith Alexander testified to Congress
that only around 6,000 NSA employees had been sent home.
According to the Washington Post’s estimate, that means only
around 15 percent of the NSA has actually been furloughed,
leaving maybe 30,000 or so employees on the job.
The Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies
has until this Friday to provide their interim findings to Pres.
Obama through DNI Clapper, who has been tasked by the White House
to facilitate the panel’s operations. News of Clapper’s alleged
role within the board raised concern last month after it was
reported that the majority of the five-person panel, originally
described by Obama himself as “independent” of the White House, is composed of
former administration officials and/or influential Democrats.
The group’s final report and recommendations –should they finally
convene in time in lieu of the shutdown – is due to the DNI and
White House by December 15.