from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2010, Issue No. 11
February 2, 2010

Secrecy News Blog:


Members of Congress are urging the Obama Administration to activate the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent agency that is supposed to monitor and defend civil liberties in the development and implementation of counterterrorism policies.

Last week, Rep. Bennie Thompson and Rep. Jane Harman wrote to the President and asked him to appoint members to the vacant Board, which has a budget for the current fiscal year that remains unexpended.

"Given the recent events of December 25, 2009, and the prospective policy changes that will be made subsequent to this incident, including potential expansion of watch lists and widespread use of body-scanning technology, we believe that the Board will give an anxious public confidence that appropriate rights are respected," they wrote.

Their letter was reported by Eli Lake in the Washington Times today. See "Liberties oversight panel gets short shrift," February 2.

The White House expects to name the Board leadership "soon," a spokesman told the Times.

First proposed by the 9/11 Commission, the Board was originally set up within the Executive Office of the President. But after concerns about its independence and freedom of action arose, Congress enacted legislation in 2007 to establish it as an independent agency.

For further background see "Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board: New Independent Agency Status," Congressional Research Service.


Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH) wanted to know: What is the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) doing to improve the status of women in the Muslim world, and to better engage women around the world on counterterrorism issues?

"The response to this question is classified," replied NCTC Director Michael Leiter in a written response that has recently been published.

See the last page of "The Roots of Violent Islamist Extremism and Efforts to Counter It," hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, July 10, 2008 (published December 2009).


At a 2008 Senate hearing, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III was effusively praised for standing by the ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft in his hospital bed in 2004 and helping him to resist White House pressure to reauthorize the Bush Administration's domestic surveillance program.

"It is hard to imagine in America circumstances in which the Director of the FBI has to order agents standing guard over a stricken Attorney General not to leave him alone with the White House counsel and the President's Chief of Staff to make sure that Deputy Attorney General James Comey stayed with him," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse in the newly published hearing volume.

"But it is not hard to understand the feeling of pressure, isolation, and consequence that bore down on all of you through that episode. I will disagree with all of you on many things, but I wanted to take this opportunity today to say thank you. Against intense and hostile pressure from the highest offices in the land, you stood for the principle that all public offices have public duties and responsibilities and that honoring those duties and responsibilities, at least as God gives us each of us the light to see them, is a higher public virtue than mere obedience. That is an important lesson in democracy. I hope it is a lasting one, and I thank you for showing us it," Sen. Whitehouse said. (page 30)

At the same hearing, Sen. Arlen Specter scolded Director Mueller for failing to inform the Judiciary Committee of the secret Bush Administration warrantless surveillance program in the first place. The Committee had to learn about it from the New York Times, Sen. Specter complained. "Why didn't you inform me as Chairman and Senator Leahy as Ranking Member about the existence of this program?" (page 14)

See "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation," Senate Judiciary Committee, September 17, 2008 (published December 2009).

Other noteworthy new hearing volumes include these:

"Exercising Congress's Constitutional Power to End a War," Senate Judiciary Committee, January 30, 2007 (published November 2009).

"The Report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States," Senate Armed Services Committee, May 7, 2009 (published January 2010).


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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