ONE HAND CLAPPING: No one should be applauding the decision by James Clapper to conceal from the public the minutes of meetings of the NSA surveillance review panel.
ONE HAND CLAPPING: No one should be applauding the decision by James Clapper to conceal from the public the minutes of meetings of the NSA surveillance review panel.

By Eric Boehm | Watchdog.org

A special committee ordered by President Obama to review the legality of the National Security Agency’s spying programs will not be subject to government transparency laws.

The president created the NSA review group in August and publicly promised it to be an “independent review” of NSA programs revealed by leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden. Obama promised that the committee would be a “high-level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies.”

The public will know little about the review.

In an unclassified memo obtained by the Press Freedom Foundation, a First Amendment watchdog group, the head of the review panel orders exemptions from several provisions of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The law, enacted in 1972, vows to make the work of advisory committees “accessible to the public.”

It’s the second blow to the promised transparency and accountability of the supposedly “independent review” of the United States’ spying programs.

The first was Obama’s decision to appoint James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, to head the group.

In March, just months before the NSA surveillance programs were exposed by Snowden, Clapper blatantly lied to Congress about the existence of those same programs.

No surprise, perhaps, that Clapper’s name is signed at the bottom of the memo exempting the review panel from the FACA provisions.

“Meetings of the review group will discuss matters related to national security policy, plans and strategy that are properly classified,” he wrote in the memo dated Sept. 19.”Disclosure of minutes, notes or other records may reveal information that reasonably could be expected to cause damage to national security.”

But classified information was not discussed at any of the group’s meetings last month, according to accounts given to the Associated Press and the British newspaper The Guardian. Even so, reports of what was discussed at the meetings will not be made public.

“The secrecy surrounding the review group’s work is not a surprise,” wrote Jason Leopold, an investigative reporter for the Press Freedom Foundation. “The Obama administration is worse than its predecessor when it comes to transparency.”

In August, Obama promised the review group would be charged with determining how to properly balance national security concerns and the “trust of the American people.”

“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,” he said at the time.

The group is supposed to submit a final report to the White House in mid-December. There is no word on whether that document will also be concealed from public view in the name of national security.

Boehm is a reporter for Watchdog.org and can be reached at EBoehm@Watchdog.org.  Follow him on Twitter at EricBoehm87.

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