Obama’s ‘outside experts’ for NSA review are former intel and White House staffers

Outside experts, you say? (SAUL LOEB / Getty Images)

ABC reports that the Obama administration’s surveillance review panel will include former intelligence and White House staffers, including Michael Morell, Richard Clarke, Cass Sunstein and Peter Swire. An official announcement of the members of the panel is expected soon.

The review panel was first announced in a White House press conference on Aug. 9, when Obama said the administration would form “a high-level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies.”

Privacy advocates aren’t happy with the composition of the group revealed so far. Some privacy groups believe that the White House will insist on all members having top secret clearances, effectively barring most independent privacy watchdogs from consideration for the panel.

Amie Stepanovich, director of the domestic surveillance project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) found the choices reported by ABC troubling:

An independent evaluation of the NSA’s surveillance programs is needed. But a worthwhile review requires an independent team of evaluators. We continue to learn how each of the oversight mechanisms that the Administration has pointed to have continuously failed. The background of this panel indicates that it, too, is unlikely to be meaningful or effective.


Michael Morell was a career intelligence officer, serving in the CIA for 33 years. He retired from his position as deputy director of the CIA earlier this year after serving two stints as the agency’s acting head during President Obama’s tenure.

Sunstein and and Swire are both former Obama administration White House staffers. Cass Sunstein left his position as the administrator of the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in 2012, while Swire served on the Obama-Biden Transition team and as special assistant to president Obama for economic policy. Swire currently teaches at the Scheller College of Business at Georgia Tech. He previously worked in the Clinton White House where he chaired a working group on how to update wiretap laws for the Internet and has a high profile in privacy policy circles.

Richard Clarke is a former national coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism for the United States. He worked for the State Department during the Reagan administration and served on the National Security Council during the presidencies of George H.W. Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush. Clarke also endorsed then-Sen. Obama’s presidential campaign in 2007.

It’s not known if the ABC list represents the full panel, or if additional names will be added in the future. The White House declined to comment on the makeup of the panel.