The Sonnenberg Phenomenon

Investment banker Maurice Sonnenberg was appointed this week to the National Commission for the Review of the Research and Development Programs of the U.S. Intelligence Community.  The most surprising thing about the appointment was its predictability.

If national commissions on intelligence were a TV game show, Maurice Sonnenberg would be Kitty Carlisle or Orson Bean.  In other words, he is a perennial member of a seemingly endless series of blue-ribbon panels, task forces and commissions.

He was senior adviser to the 1996 Commission on the Roles and Capabilities of the U.S. Intelligence Community (the Aspin-Brown Commission), a member of the 1997 Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy (the Moynihan Commission), the Vice Chairman of the 2000 National Commission on Terrorism (the Bremer Commission), and an original member of the 2003 National Commission for the Review of the Research and Development Programs of the U.S. Intelligence Community, which lapsed in 2004. The latter Commission has recently been revived, and Mr. Sonnenberg’s reappointment to it is what was announced this week.  He also previously served on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board during the Clinton Administration.

Mr. Sonnenberg accepts his role with grace.  “I’m quite content that people ask me for my views,” he told the New York Sun in 2005. “But does that elevate me to the pantheon of great thinkers? I doubt it. My hat size hasn’t changed. If I take a bus, it still costs me $2 a ride.”

“It’s sometimes helpful to talk to people who’re at the levers of power,” he admitted. “Perhaps that way one has enjoyed some influence on policy.”

The new National Commission was restored by Congress to perform a “review of the full range of current research and development programs within the responsibility of the Intelligence Community with the goal of ensuring a unified research and development program across the entire Community.”

0 thoughts on “The Sonnenberg Phenomenon

  1. Haw! Great post. Another way of looking at it is that in a country the size of the US, with as many experts spread across the country in academia as well as corporate and private life, the choices for commissions remain remarkably deadening.

    Bob Graham, a penny-ante do-nothing ex-Congressman who has made himself over into professional Washington vermin also comes to mind. If there’s a commission chair to be filled, he’s always up for it — be it WMDs, Financial Inquiry or Oil Spill investigation.

    Here you’ve given an example with at least a self-deprecating sense of humor.

    Whosoever is now in charge also must carry some of the blame. The process must involve tossing it to some perennial staffer who then consults some short list of accepted choices always up for consideration.

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