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NSA Review Panel Snubs Reform in First Hearing

Panel's function 'is to bleed off pressure, without getting to the meaningful reform,' says attendee

Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

The first meeting of a panel hand-picked by the Obama administration to review the controversial surveillance practices of the National Security Agency failed to mention any proposed changes to those practices, two attendees told the Guardian Thursday.

The panel, called the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology, has faced harsh criticism from the start after it was stacked with "intelligence insiders, former White House officials and Obama advisers," Guardian journalist Spencer Ackerman writes.

The first meeting was "dominated by the interests of major technology firms" including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple and Yahoo who all sent representatives to the inaugural hearing, Ackerman writes. The session "did not address making any substantive changes to the controversial mass collection of Americans' phone data and foreigners' internet communications, which can include conversations with Americans."

One attendee, Sascha Meinrath, vice president of the New America Foundation, told Ackerman, "I didn't find anyone saying the bulk surveillance is horrendous and bad for our democracy." Meinrath declined to discuss specifics but added:

The companies are concerned that it impacts their bottom line. My concern is they're looking to preserve the function of the NSA.

My fear is it's a simulacrum of meaningful reform. Its function is to bleed off pressure, without getting to the meaningful reform.

"The agenda was not, 'should the government do more or do less'," Robert Atkinson, the president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation told the Guardian. "[There was] some discussion of having more judicial oversight, not having the NSA have this carte blanche access, but to be fair, the discussion was principally shaped by the commission, the taskforce."

"It was almost scripted," Meinrath added.

Contrary to Obama's earlier promises that the review panel would consist of a "high-level group of outside experts" tasked with assessing all of the government's "intelligence and communication technologies," Obama's actual panel list has turned out to include none other than Michael Morell, a recent acting head of the CIA, and Richard Clarke, a White House counter-terrorism aide to three presidents, among others.


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