This Independent Technical Review Group Brought to You By the Booz Allen Hamilton Director of National Intelligence™

When Obama announced Friday the formation of a technical advisory group to review our SIGINT programs, I naively believed “outside” and “independent” meant “outside” and “independent.”

Fourth, we’re forming a high-level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies. We need new thinking for a new era. We now have to unravel terrorist plots by finding a needle in the haystack of global telecommunications. And meanwhile, technology has given governments — including our own — unprecedented capability to monitor communications.

So I am tasking this independent group to step back and review our capabilities — particularly our surveillance technologies. And they’ll consider how we can maintain the trust of the people, how we can make sure that there absolutely is no abuse in terms of how these surveillance technologies are used, ask how surveillance impacts our foreign policy — particularly in an age when more and more information is becoming public. And they will provide an interim report in 60 days and a final report by the end of this year, so that we can move forward with a better understanding of how these programs impact our security, our privacy, and our foreign policy. [my emphasis]

I also naively believed this was an effort to take up Ron Wyden and Mark Udall’s call to get an independent review of the program, which the rest of the Senate Intelligence Committee thwarted a year ago.

We also proposed directing the committee’s Technical Advisory Group to study FISA Amendments Act collection and provide recommendations for improvements. We were disappointed that our motion to request that the Technical Advisory Group study this issue was ruled by our colleagues to be out of order.


In the memo Obama just released ordering James Clapper to form such a committee, those words “outside” and “independent” disappear entirely.

I believe it is important to take stock of how these technological advances alter the environment in which we conduct our intelligence mission. To this end, by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I am directing you to establish a Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies (Review Group).

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. Within 60 days of its establishment, the Review Group will brief their interim findings to me through the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and the Review Group will provide a final report and recommendations to me through the DNI no later than December 15, 2013. [my emphasis]

And neither Obama nor the Intelligence Committees get to hear from this Group themselves. It all goes through James Clapper.

What on Friday was an outside and independent group is now branded by the Director of National Intelligence as the Director of National Intelligence Group.

At the direction of the President, I am establishing the Director of National Intelligence Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies to examine our global signals-intelligence collection and surveillance capability.

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.

Huh. It took exactly 72 hours for that good idea to fizzle into a navel gaze directed by the guy who lies to Congress.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

31 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    A genuinely independent review might result in looking backwards and indictments for criminal activities. And we can’t have that. /s

  2. wendy davis says:

    Best diary title ever, Emptywheel. Not even a curtsy to transparency or oversight. I’d just seen his announcement at, and came over, figuring you’d have the truth of it. Thank you; you never disappoint.

    Great parsing of his White Paper, too, even if I didn’t understand all of it. ;~)

  3. What Constitution says:

    My initial reaction to Obama’s articulations on Friday was that the phrase “it’s the least I can do” would have been appropriate at the end of the speech. That, of course, was too gracious — as now demonstrated, there’s a whole lot less capable of being done, and we’re starting to see that already.

    I was at something of a loss to understand how and why Obama chose to formulate those two quoted paragraphs on Friday in a way that specifically listed “goals” without including any reference to “respecting the Constitutional rights of Americans” among them. Now, however, that’s all explained — give control over the “assessment” to the one guy most plainly in need of indictment for false statements to Congress over the constitutionality of this same program.

    Mr. Clapper could always abstain from personal involvement — either as a felon or as otherwise biased — and he could appoint some to this committee who actually might exercise review. Place your bets.

  4. orionATL says:

    “…the guy who lies to congress…”

    not to be too critical, but we need more specificity than that, ew.

    there are several high-ranking members of the intelligence community who lie to congress. :))

    (and i include co-opted congresscattle like feinstein and rogers among those lying liars.)

  5. phred says:

    Obama misled the public??? Again??? I’m shocked, shocked, I say!!! ; )

    That miserable press conference was too much for me to endure, but reading about it later it struck me that President Prevaricator refuses to accept the fact that the objections to his precious program are the fact that it EXISTS rather than that it is misunderstood.

    I will never be comfortable with an unconstitutional attack on my liberty, no matter how the Salesman-in-Chief tries to spin it.

    I want it stopped, ended, and the infrastructure that underlies it dismantled. That is where my comfort level rests.

  6. peasantparty says:

    I just want to know if part of this spy apparatus involves not only the telephones and computers of innocent citizens, but also the drones operated in the US. I think they are linking the metadata to physical locations by the GPS and satellite stuff revealed by Russ Tice together in order to know where we are 24/7.

    I was reading stuff today that immediately brought to mind the big deal Dick Cheney made back then about having his Conn. home declared a no-fly zone. I may be connecting dots in the wrong direction, but believe me there are dots to be connected and a LONG string of them coming from the Cheney days.

  7. orionATL says:

    the thing that struck me about the speech was the large number of platitudes and the repeated use of intelligence/bureaucratic jargon.

    not a thoughtful speech at all nor one designed to discuss or educate, just a quick wave of the emperial hand to calm roiling waters on the way out of town.

  8. peasantparty says:

    This stuff is so TOP Sekrit that they can’t afford to have outside or independent reviews. No, they need insiders to grab up all the eggs in the hen house and scarf all traces of seeds and corn kernels. Leave nothing behind that would give proof of wrong doing or illegal activities, unless they haven’t figured it out yet.

    This is just like tasking Turbo Taxless Timmeh to judge the systemic risks of bankster fraud.

  9. peasantparty says:

    @JohnT: I can say with all truth the Trans-Sib is definitely a winning game. Russia had this going and started back before Obama took office. I was working Logistics and Shipping at the time.

    I hate to say it but right at this moment, Russia has a better economic plan than the US has had in 20 years.

  10. Joanne says:

    Never believed it anyway. Obfuscate and delay is the order of the day/week/decade. But I agree with Wendy Davis at 2 — great title!

  11. Snoopdido says:

    Some in Congress are pushing to change the law so that the NSA no longer maintains its own US domestic call record database.

    The US government has taken the position that they need to have their own US domestic call record database because it’s too slow and too inconvenient to order the telephone companies to search their own individual US domestic call record databases.

    Watch out for a slippery “cake and eat it too” compromise where instead of the NSA maintaining its own US domestic call record database, that US domestic call record database (and its IT database staff) will be moved under the control of the FISC, and the US person 4th Amendment privacy cherry on top will be that each query of the FISC-operated US domestic call record database will have to be approved in advance by the FISC.

    This approach will garner bipartisan support in Congress from the National Security Firsters and some Civil Libertarians as well as the Executive branch, and will be sold to the American public as an intelligent improvement toward maintaining the American public’s 4th Amendment privacy rights.

    Many of the American public will naively buy this bill of goods because the Executive branch of the US government will no longer have their US domestic call records all the while ignoring the fact that another branch of the US government will.

  12. peasantparty says:

    @Snoopdido: They have not proven why they need the all the communications and movements of innocent citizens yet.

    What is the real purpose?

  13. x174 says:

    ew: thanks again for the due diligence.

    the us wants to project force but instead they only project farce especially with the latest installment of utter foolishness.

    this shit has gone global in a big way, and o still communicates as though he were speaking to a bunch of fourth-graders.

    simply put: for the past twelve years the us intelligence/surveillance industry has had it’s ass hanging out for all the world to see.

    the latest Snowden take-down is now exposing O’s private parts to the international community.

    the way it looks to me: either O is going to learn how to do this the easy way–getting real about the facts and laws on the ground and the global awareness of the unfolding debacle–or the hard way–with pornographic levels of exposure/humiliation in purest Prufrockian debasement:

    And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
    The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
    And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
    When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
    Then how should I begin.
    To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
    And how should I presume?

    The Story of O in 3D. Coming to a theater near you.

  14. lefty665 says:

    BO said he still believed in the programs, and the only problem was that the rest of us rubes did not trust that the data was not being abused. He promised to convince us everything was hunky dory. Framing the problem that way trivializes the issues and misdirects attention.

    The programs themselves are NOT all right. Turning NSA inward from its legitimate foreign intelligence role to collecting data on hundreds of millions of US citizens is a profound and fundamental change. It destroys the Bill of Rights. It enables tyranny.

    Whether or not data is being abused right this minute is small potatoes. Once collected, forbidding or requiring the use of data puts tyranny a simple policy change away. Senator Church and past generations of NSAers warned us about that 35+ years ago.

    It is all a con game that started with “Change we can believe in”. From there the lies, sellouts, misdeeds, and killing of innocents have grown and multiplied. Today, “outside” and “independent” morph into “inside” and “controlled”. After more than four years of this crap, why would anyone expect anything else?

    (EW – nice snark in the lede)

  15. M.Black says:

    As actor Will Wheaton has tweeted this evening, Obama’s move is a giant Fuck You to America. Will the American people finally catch on to Obama’s complete and utter contempt for them? Honestly, I haven’t seen anything like this since Nixon.

    Good lord, what have we come to?

  16. lil1408 says:

    Where is the intelligence? It stuns that Mr. Snowden would go to Russia where a billionaire was fleeced and imprisoned recently for going against Putin from the US (New York)where a millionaire, age 87 was fleeced and sent to prison for 5 years for not taking care of his mother! Since he was 87, didn’t the statute of limitations run out on poor housekeeping? Either way it seems that neither country has respect for liberty or personal property, so why THERE?

  17. orionATL says:


    “…O said he still believed in the programs, and the only problem was that the rest of us rubes did not trust that the data was not being abused. He promised to convince us everything was hunky dory…”

    that’s how i felt, and felt deeply offended by. i despise being talked down to by any politician,

    all the more so by a politician (and president) who is engaged in bald-faced lying to me, repeat, lying to me –

    on “transparency”,

    on “fisa court provides adequate protections”,

    on “necessity of domestic dragnet for our security”,

    and now, about his willingness to “change” the nsa spying programs based on the objections of millions like me.

    i have always had a hard time figuring where obama was coming from on any issue, beginning with his slouch on the henry louis gates mistreatment.

    i am coming to the conclusion he is either being blackmailed, or he is the real manchurian candidate.

    the actions he takes, at least for a democrat, are eccentric, to say the least.

  18. D Davies says:

    “I naively believed “outside” and “independent” meant “outside” and “independent.”

    I sure hope Merriam-Webster is keeping up with all the words our captured gov has redefined b/c I admit I’m completely lost.

  19. D Davies says:

    @lil1408: Good heavens, where have you been? Snowden’s destination wasn’t Russia. He was just changing planes in Moscow when the US gov cancelled his passport stranding him there.

  20. lefty665 says:

    @orionATL: “i am coming to the conclusion he is either being blackmailed, or he is the real manchurian candidate.”

    Neither maybe. The misunderstanding may be that he is a Democrat. He has made no bones about being a DLC, right wing blue dog, fat cat and D.C. establishment sycophant. In his campaigns he did what he had to do to appeal to real Dems. He then would give something to his real base (No, not people of color, but them too occasionally).

    FWIW he has been consistent. For example, in economics it has been clear since Thanksgiving ’08, and Larry Summers is the perfect illustration. If BO was a Dem, after what Summers did during the Clinton years, and his assertion that women’s brains can’t handle science (bless their sweet little hearts), Summers never would have gotten his toe in the door in the first place. Summers then promptly single handedly torpedoed an effective stimulus. That BO is defending him now and making it clear Summers is a top contender for the Fed tells you all you need to know.

    It is the same pretty much everywhere you look. It is things like leaving Gates at Defense and Alexander’s extended tour at NSA. That he left DeMarco at FHFA for 30 seconds after noon on 1/20/09 is criminal. Oh, and did I mention, looking forward, not looking back? No war crimes trials for Duhbya et al is another big hint.

    Dr. King’s dream is realized. Meni, Meni, Tekel, Upharsin. The handwriting is still on the wall.

    In case anyone is getting their hopes up, Hillary (and Bill) and Biden are cut from the same cloth.

  21. PCM says:

    @lil1408: Snowden went to Russia because it’s one of exactly two countries in the world that can tell the US to piss off with relative impunity and where the US might be reluctant to attempt a locally unsanctioned rendition operation. Snowden made his first press appearance from the other country.

  22. dee preston says:

    Sure independant just like the foreclosure review done by rust consulting and others owned by citbank. We have to impeach him before he (obama) destroys the planet! I know that sounds crazy but its true. We have more enemies now than ever before. His agenda is to take over the planets resources and kill us all in the process. The list is so long….illegal spying is illegal and each and every one of us is a victim of this terrorism and all the lies that go along with it. Big O is the terrorist I’m so sick of that word… the way how many IMPLOSIONS have u seen in other countries…that would be none!! God help those whom are worthy and for the rest, let the devil have his full dues! In hope, dee

  23. jawbone says:

    lefty665 — “He has made no bones about being a DLC, right wing blue dog, fat cat and D.C. establishment sycophant.”

    AKA, Corporatist running dog lackey. –

  24. Quixote says:

    A little bit of light mockery is okay. Just don’t send out any deadpan “Gmail confessions” in Clapper’s name: they will track you down and prosecute you for parody that’s “not just for fun” and that “crosses the line.” At your trial, the judge will explain that “neither good faith nor truth is a defense.” See how they handled one such case in New York:

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