A White House panel charged with assessing US intelligence operations was stripped of its members this year just before leaker Edward Snowden revealed the extent US global spying.
The President’s Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB) has gone from 14 members to four since the end of 2012, according to a recently-updated White House webpage. Seven members were asked to step down, while 3 voluntarily left.
Included among the members asked to leave by the White House was 9/11 Commission Vice Chairman (and former Indiana congressman) Lee Hamilton, and Philip Zelikow, formerly the executive director of the 9/11 Commission and a top aide to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
“I don’t know anything about whether they’ve brought in new members. They thanked me and that’s about all I know,” Hamilton told Washington news site Politico of his departure. He added, “I was on it a long time under Bush and under Obama. They wanted to make some changes.”
Former members’ biographies point to early May as the time the departures took place, Politico reported.
“A number of PIAB members have recently departed their positions and in staffing the Board, we look carefully at the President’s needs and ensure that the group is comprised of individuals with the skills and expertise to meet those needs,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told Politico.
The panel is without a chair, as former heads Chuck Hagel and David Boren, both former US senators, voluntarily left earlier this year due to other obligations. Hagel took the position of Secretary of Defense, and Boren is the president of the University of Oklahoma. Former lobbyist Tom Wheeler left the board early this year as well, when asked to head the Federal Communications Commission.
This news comes on the heels of an announcement last week by President Obama of a new outside “review group” to assess NSA surveillance and other technology issues in the wake of Snowden’s leaks.
Obama initially said Friday the group would be an independent body. A backlash ensued when the White House released a statement on Monday saying Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who has admitted lying to Congress about the surveillance operations of the NSA following the leaks, would “establish a review group on intelligence and communications technologies” and report its conclusions.
The White House said Tuesday the president’s initial promise of a panel consisting of independent, outside experts remains true.
“The review group will brief its interim findings to the president within 60 days of its establishment, and provide a final report with recommendations no later than December 15 2013,” a National Security Council spokesperson told The Guardian. The DNI’s office will facilitate “security clearances and access to classified information” for the board, according to the White House.
In addition to the newly-announced outside panel and PIAB, the president only recently filled out the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board after it was mandated by Congress in 2008.
Remaining PIAB members have close ties to Obama, possibly explaining the establishment of a new group to review the recent NSA disclosures. Former Deputy Director of the CIA Michael Morell is expected to be added to PIAB in the near future.
PIAB “exists exclusively to assist the President by providing the President with an independent source of advice on the effectiveness with which the Intelligence Community is meeting the nation’s intelligence needs, and the vigor and insight with which the community plans for the future,” according to the White House.
In a report released in secret last year, PIAB warned the White House that US intelligence agencies were not focusing proper attention on China, the Middle East and other national security hot spots, positing they had become too involved with counterterrorism and military operations, including drone strikes. The clandestine report was first reported by The Washington Post in March.
After Wikileaks released hundreds of thousands of classified documents in 2010, the White House asked the board to “take an independent look at the means by which the Executive Branch as a whole shares and protects classified information.”