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NSA Transparency Board Voluntarily Suspends Itself Due to “Shutdown”, While Spying Continues
by Ezra Van Auken
What do you know, the National Security Agency’s review and transparency board, which was created in August, has been temporarily suspended due to the “government shutdown”. After hysteria from Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks, giving a revealing effect on the government’s intelligence programs, President Obama answered with the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies. Unfortunately for anyone curious of the RGICT board’s report, it will not be published, citing the shutdown.
The drum up by the Obama administration on transparency has seemingly tapered off and the review board’s first report hasn’t even been published. According to Politico’s Mike Allen and Josh Gerstein, one member of the five-person panel, Michael Morell, who is a former member of the CIA, has put the 60-day report on hold. What seems to be a patched up excuse by Morell goes a little something like: since the intelligence community is off due to the government shutdown, our panel figured we’d be off, too.
Morell went on to tell both Politico reporters, “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,” claiming that it’s simply of less importance to review the very intelligence community that came under severe scrutiny by Americans. And to be clear, the RGICT that’s headed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) was not actually affected by the shutdown, and voluntarily closed.
Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Trevor Timm wrote that although Morell has claimed the entirety of the intelligence community is shutdown, it’s not the case. “Not off the job: the NSA employees conducting surveillance of US phone records, US internet traffic, and other internet activity of people who are considered 51% foreign.” About 70 percent of the intelligence community has been furloughed, leaving another 30 percent up for the task of surveillance. However, are these numbers completely correct?
NSA Director Keith Alexander testified last week that roughly 6,000 employees had been sent packing while government remains “shut down”. This leaves, according to the Washington Post, about 85 percent of the workforce still in tact or 30,000 jobs. So, as thousands of employees, but not even half, were forced from their intelligence workplace because of government shutdown, this alleged transparency review board is voluntarily taking some time off as well.
Review board member Morell also threw in a corkscrew, suggesting that government funding towards children cancer is more important than transparency. The review report, which should be handed to the Obama administration by Friday, appears to have taken a back seat, showing yet another fumble by government officials.
The delay by the review board shouldn’t come as any surprise. Besides President Obama tagging the board as “independent” from the government, civil liberties advocates argue that the board is anything but independent, and has direct ties to Washington.