Low clearance: Obama NSA review board process questioned

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Brendan Bordelon Contributor
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A D.C.-based national security lawyer claims that the president’s NSA review panel is missing feedback from one important group: the men and women directly involved in classified intelligence activities.

“It drives me nuts with this stuff,” Bradley Moss, a former clerk for the National Security Archive and deputy director of the James Madison Project, a transparency group, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It’s the most basic concept: Just provide a point of contact for people so they don’t accidentally submit classified information.”

The Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies was assembled by President Obama two months after invasive federal surveillance activities were revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.

Last week, they opened up an e-mail address,, through which individuals can comment on how “the United States can employ its technical collection capabilities” in a way that protects American national security while respecting privacy and civil liberties.

But as Moss notes, the request provides no option through which those with a classified security clearance can provide input without risking a violation, something he sees as a crippling oversight.

“The concern I have,” he said, “is if a former contractor or former government employee want to provide input here, and they go ahead and submit — through this email that’s publicly provided — they submit classified information, if they ever go back to hold a classified position again or if they currently sit in a classified position, they’re possibly in trouble.”

“Someone, in good faith, could end up using this publicly-available mechanism for submitting input and get themselves into trouble without realizing it,” he continued.

Moss said this makes it highly unlikely that anyone with knowledge of improper surveillance activities within the intelligence community will be willing to come forward and share their concerns with the panel.

“For what reason are you going to risk submitting it through here and losing your clearance?” he asked. “Even if it’s not a criminal charge, a security clearance is like currency, especially in the D.C. area. … [T]hose people are not going to submit information.”

Moss called the oversight “par for the course” for a government unconcerned with questions of improper surveillance and unwilling or unable to think “beyond the most basic step.”

“I’m sitting here with my head on my desk going ‘You’re a panel of high-level security officials looking into classified operational review, and you don’t provide a classified submission mechanism,’” he lamented.

President Obama created the panel on August 12, after public opinion polls showed that many Americans remained deeply skeptical of his assurances that the federal government’s surveillance programs were both legal and limited.

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