The No-Technologist Technology Review Panel

In addition to the four people ABC earlier reported would be part of Obama’s Committee to Learn to Trust the Dragnet, Obama added … another law professor, Geoffrey Stone. (Stone is [see update], along with Swire, a worthwhile member. But not a technologist.)

What’s fucking crazy about the committee is it has zero technologists to review a topic that is highly technical. Obama implicitly admits as much! He sells this committee for their “immense experience in national security, intelligence, oversight, privacy and civil liberties.” National security, intelligence, oversight, privacy, civil liberties. No technology.

On August 9, President Obama called for a high-level group of experts to review our intelligence and communications technologies. Today the President met with the members of this group: Richard Clarke, Michael Morell, Geoffrey Stone, Cass Sunstein and Peter Swire.

These individuals bring to the task immense experience in national security, intelligence, oversight, privacy and civil liberties. The Review Group will bring a range of experience and perspectives to bear to advise the President on how, in light of advancements in technology, the United States can employ its technical collection capabilities in a way that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while respecting our commitment to privacy and civil liberties, recognizing our need to maintain the public trust, and reducing the risk of unauthorized disclosure.

The President thanked the Members of the Group for taking on this important task and looks forward to hearing from them as their work proceeds. Within 60 days of beginning their work, the Review Group will brief their interim findings to the President through the Director of National Intelligence, and the Review Group will provide a final report and recommendations to the President. [my emphasis]

So in spite of the fact that the White House highlights technology in its mandate, that didn’t lead them to find even a single technologist.

Also: Cass Sunstein.

Also: the Committee does, in fact, report its findings through James Clapper, the guy whose programs they will review, they guy who lied to Congress.

At least the White House isn’t promising — as Obama originally did — that it will be an “outside” “independent” committee.

Update: Egads. I take back what I said about Stone, who said this in June.

[W]hat should Edward Snowden have done? Probably, he should have presented his concerns to senior, responsible members of Congress. But the one thing he most certainly should not have done is to decide on the basis of his own ill-informed, arrogant and amateurish judgment that he knows better than everyone else in government how best to serve the national interest. The rule of law matters, and no one gave Edward Snowden the authority to make that decision for the nation. His conduct was more than unacceptable; it was criminal.

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.

15 replies
  1. peasantparty says:

    Big Tell here.

    First of all, there are no real outside, independents of course.

    But the big reveal is as you said, no real tech people. That tells me he, nor the NSA are going to allow the public to understand what they have, or what they’ve done technologically to spy on us illegally.

  2. der says:

    BILL MOYERS You once asked the Democrat Jack Quinn what appealed to him about the Republican Ed Gillespie, who became his partner when they first started bonding. And he answered?

    MARK LEIBOVICH: Well, “Ed got the joke.”

    BILL MOYERS: What’s the joke?

    MARK LEIBOVICH: That’s what I said. I said, “Jack, what’s the joke?” And he said, “The joke is that, well, we’re all patriots.” And I thought that that was both– it was some mix of sarcasm, contempt, glibness– I don’t know. It was a fascinating answer.

  3. C says:

    We shouldn’t be surprised at Stone’s comments. Just before the election all the “very serious people” on the Post and NYTimes editorial boards were talking about how everyone in Washington agreed that “something” must be done about leaks. Clearly anyone who doubts that and doubts the system is not welcome. You are not permitted to sit at the table unless you believe that secrets rank above all and Obama wouldn’t appoint anyone that would question his actions. Ergo this committee was a joke before Stone was appointed, even before Sunstein. Now the joke is just being played out.

    It’s like the Aristocrats only not funny.

  4. joanneleon says:

    Gee, I’m glad that Obama and his admin have continued their high standards for well informed, unbiased appointees.

    The lack of technology skills or resume is actually kind of hilarious (as is the whole panel, in a gallows humor kind of way).

    Alexander the Great will probably sit in on all of their meetings (whether they know it or not!) and provide the technological expertise, LOL.

  5. pdaly says:

    empytwheel’s quote of a petulant Stone re: Snowden’s decision to blow the whistle is priceless.

    Perhaps Obama could invite Snowden to joint the Group Panel. In contrast to all the invitees, Snowden seems to understand best the technology and to fully comprehend the erosion to privacy it represents in its current form.

  6. lefty665 says:

    NSA was guaranteed to be unforthcoming, friendly committee or not. With no technology expertise on the committee they can now avoid even the inconvenience of having to deal with witting questions.

    As has been remarked, this is simply spin to try to convince the country that it is ok to spy on every communication, movement and activity. No technical competence wanted.

  7. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    “What’s fucking crazy about the committee is it has zero technologists to review a topic that is highly technical.”

    @emptywheel, I’m not convinced lack of a technologist on the committee is an issue. The technology isn’t evil, nor all that secret (see and In fact the NSA is doing some damn fine work.

    That is not to say they are not overstepping the bounds in how they apply this technology. And that is what needs to be investigated.

    Just as we don’t need to understand drone technology, nor claim drones are bad technology, to be confident that their use should be much more critically investigated.

    Snowden didn’t reveal technology that isn’t largely understood, he revealed the illegal use of it.

  8. Nigel says:

    Stone also said this in June, which doesn’t inspire confidence:
    Geoffrey Stone: Well, first of all, there is, so far as I can tell from everything that’s been revealed, absolutely nothing illegal or criminal about these programs. They may be terrible public policy—I’m not sure I approve of it at all—but the fact is the claim that they’re unconstitutional and illegal is wildly premature. Certainly from the standpoint of what’s been released so far, whether Mr. Hedges likes it or not, or whether Mr. Snowdon likes it or not, these are not unconstitutional or illegal programs.

  9. emptywheel says:

    @Greg Bean (@GregLBean): That’s not true.

    Two central questions that need to be answered, for example, is is there a way to accomplish what the phone dragnet does without it being a dragnet. NSA says it’d be very difficult. I think the biggest impediment is getting VOIP calls. But it’s still possible.

    Another question is why they keep collecting USP data in their upstream collections. NSA says they can’t segregate out MCTs. That’s not true, as I understand it.

    There’s also the question of how we protect against cyber attacks w/o collecting everything flowing through the US.

    It will take a technologist to stand up to the NSA and explain that they’re choosing to find these technological problems. Peter Swire–the most likely to do so here–isn’t going to be enough.

  10. lefty665 says:

    @emptywheel: You’ve got it EW.

    And, as always, the devil is in the details. Even with overall acknowledgement of a technology, NSA will hide its capabilities. It will take both profound technological expertise and determination to get at the truth.

    For example, NSA has a long history, going back at least to the DES debates in the ’70’s, of lying about what encryption they could break. With DES it took outside demonstration of their actual capabilities to get to the truth. There is no indication that has changed.

    Who on the committee will be either willing or able to unravel the capabilities and potential of the monster NSA has created on Beef Hollow Road?

  11. Snertly says:

    Promising technical solutions for authoritarian excess becomes a lot harder when nearby experts are able to refute your promises as impractical or fictional. Easy solution: no nearby experts.

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