Watch­dog for spy agen­cies in dire need of nom­i­nees

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY TAMI ABDOLLAH

A fed­eral board re­spon­si­ble for pro­tect­ing Amer­i­cans against abuses by spy agen­cies is in dis­ar­ray just weeks be­fore Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump takes of­fice.

The five-mem­ber Pri­vacy and Civil Lib­er­ties Over­sight Board will have only two re­main­ing mem­bers as of Jan. 7 — and zero Democrats, even though it is re­quired to op­er­ate as an in­de­pen­dent, bi­par­ti­san agency. The va­can­cies mean it will lack the min­i­mum three mem­bers re­quired to con­duct business and can work only on on­go­ing projects. Mem­bers would have to be nom­i­nated by Mr. Trump and con­firmed by the Se­nate.

The board was re­vi­tal­ized af­ter for­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency con­trac­tor Ed­ward Snow­den’s dis­clo­sures on the scope of U.S. spy­ing in 2013. It no­tably con­cluded that the NSA’s phone sur­veil­lance pro­gram was il­le­gal.

Since then, it has been cru­cial in en­sur­ing mem­bers of Congress and the pub­lic have a win­dow into the highly se­cre­tive and clas­si­fied world of in­tel­li­gence agen­cies.

But it’s un­clear whether Mr. Trump will sup­port ro­bust in­tel­li­gence over­sight. Dur­ing his cam­paign, Mr. Trump ap­peared to sup­port strength­ened in­tel­li­gence over­all and sur­veil­lance of mosques, but he has more re­cently ex­pressed dis­trust of in­tel­li­gence agen­cies. The Trump tran­si­tion team didn’t im­me­di­ately re­spond to a request for com­ment.

Jim Dempsey, a Demo­crat, will leave the board Jan. 3 be­cause for months the Se­nate has not con­firmed his renom­i­na­tion by Pres­i­dent Obama. For­mer U.S. Judge Pa­tri­cia Wald, the only other Demo­crat, in­formed the White House this month that she in­tends to re­tire ef­fec­tive Jan. 7.

The board also will lose its ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Sharon Brad­ford Franklin, who plans to step down be­fore Mr. Trump’s pres­i­dency, ac­cord­ing to a per­son with knowl­edge of the board’s oper­a­tions who wasn’t au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly about the mat­ter.

Al­ready in limbo is a pub­lic over­sight re­port on the use of a Rea­gan-era ex­ec­u­tive or­der that since 1981 has au­tho­rized sweep­ing pow­ers by in­tel­li­gence agen­cies like the NSA to spy even on in­no­cent Amer­i­cans abroad and never has been sub­ject to mean­ing­ful over­sight from Congress or courts.

The se­nior Demo­crat on the Se­nate Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, Dianne Fe­in­stein of Cal­i­for­nia, has said her com­mit­tee has not been able to suf­fi­ciently over­see programs op­er­ated un­der the or­der.

The pri­vacy panel’s re­port on the or­der is stalled and no work is be­ing done on it, ac­cord­ing to the in­di­vid­ual, who has knowl­edge about the project’s sta­tus. Some in­di­vid­ual agency re­ports re­lated to the or­der were ex­pected to be com­pleted be­fore the board loses its quo­rum, the per­son said.

An­other re­view, of a 2014 presidential di­rec­tive that de­tails U.S. sig­nals-in­tel­li­gence ac­tiv­i­ties for for­eign in­tel­li­gence and coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence pur­poses, is on track to be re­leased be­fore Jan. 20, the in­di­vid­ual said. That re­view was re­quested by Mr. Obama.

One of the board’s two re­main­ing Repub­li­cans, Rachel Brand, whose term of­fi­cially ex­pires in Jan­uary, could con­tinue through March. If Mr. Trump moves for­ward with any board nom­i­na­tion, she may con­tinue through the end of the year. If Ms. Brand leaves, Repub­li­can Elise­beth Collins would be­come the last board mem­ber; her term ends in Jan­uary 2020.

The over­sight board was cre­ated by statute in 2007. Its mem­bers serve part time and are re­quired to be able to main­tain a top-se­cret clear­ance.

While lack­ing en­force­ment abil­ity to im­pose its rec­om­men­da­tions on the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity, the board does have the “power of per­sua­sion and in­vok­ing pub­lic con­cern about is­sues,” said for­mer board chair­man David Me­dine, a Demo­crat who re­signed a year early, in July, to work for a devel­op­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion. That power is sig­nif­i­cantly di­min­ished with­out the min­i­mum three mem­bers nec­es­sary to re­port find­ings to the pub­lic.

The board’s re­view of in­tel­li­gence agen­cies’ use of Sec­tion 215 of the Pa­triot Act, which the NSA used to con­duct bulk col­lec­tion of do­mes­tic tele­phone records, con­cluded that the pro­gram was il­le­gal and should be shut down. That find­ing split along party lines, with the Democrats in the ma­jor­ity.

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