PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT 2015-10-27آ he American government spying on Americans; spying on our...
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In This Issue: 1 Checks and Balances Needed for NSA 2 Director’s Letter 3 Security Screening Flaws 4 Another Unneeded Multi-Billion Dollar Nuclear Facility 4 Meet POGO’s New Staff 5 SEC Fixes a Loophole 5 Pentagon Changing Course on Flawed Ship? 6 Planned Giving
PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT
Exposing Corruption. Exploring Solutions. www.POGO.org
November 2013: Vol. 17, Issue 3
Checks and Balances Needed for NSA Surveillance Programs
The American government spying on Americans; spying on our allies; turning over American communications to other nations; breaking down privacy safeguards on the Internet and in our Constitution—all of these things now have our attention because of intelligence contractor Edward Snowden’s whistleblower disclosures. Snowden’s disclosures have peeled back a system of secret law that has long been in need of more checks and balances. Congress has finally awakened to challenge national security claims that have kept them and the American people in the dark about our intelligence activities, including domestic surveillance. There have been at least a dozen hearings and a few dozen bills introduced to wrestle with the revelations about NSA activities.
POGO has been working with allies to support reforms ranging from more checks and balances in the legal framework for intelligence activities to better whistleblower protections for the national security and intelligence community workforce. As we go to press, there are at least two pieces of legislation that include our recommendations.
The first is a bill introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), one of the original authors of the USA PATRIOT Act. The USA FREEDOM Act, supported by an impressive coalition of more than one hundred bipartisan lawmakers, ends bulk collection of domestic records, curbs secret law, increases transparency, improves oversight and accountability, and provides safeguards for civil liberties and other rights.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has also attached whistleblower protections to its authorization bill. The reform, championed by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), would provide for the first time specific statutory protections for those who hold security clearances and have access to classified information. These protections are similar to those the Senate passed last year, only to be blocked by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI). We hope that given the recent high-profile leaks of classified information, Chairman Rogers will reconsider his position and make it safe to use legal channels to disclose waste, fraud, and abuse in our intelligence activities.
We are also working with other Members of Congress, the Obama Administration, and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to advance meaningful reform to better balance national security with liberty and accountability. To keep up on the ever-changing landscape of the post-Snowden reform efforts, please visit POGO’s blog. ■
As I write this, the government has just reopened. The crisis we experienced was largely created by some in Congress who used anti-government rhetoric and tactics. We at POGO are not anti- government. While we’re often critical of how government does its business, we hold the core belief that there is a potential for good, accountable government.
Now that the immediate crisis has passed, and the government is back up and running, we are still faced with a profound systemic problem: How do we get our government to fulfill its potential?
The answer clearly begins with “we the people.” It is pitiful that the Capital—the whole country, in fact—is so brutally and uncivilly divided over the role and activities of government. Are NSA surveillance activities making us safer, or are they simply violating the civil liberties of our allies and our own citizens? Are drones effectively targeting terrorists, or are they killing civilians and fueling future enemies? What about the role of government in financial regulation, the regulation of energy resources, or the regulation of commerce? What should that role be? Equally problematic is that, regardless of which side one comes down on, facts are no longer just facts. If they don’t fit one’s political frame, the facts are obstacles to be ignored or twisted by those who don’t like them.
Our politicians are frankly acting largely like we do. They ridicule the other party. They only talk to each other and appear on television or radio shows that mirror their side. Can you blame them, really? That is what their constituents apparently want. The people electing these politicians (that’s us) are limiting our worlds to the safe comfort zones of the familiar.
It has been made clear by the past few elections, however, that about half the country doesn’t agree with us. Does the “other side” really not have one single valid point? Rhetoric aside, how reasonable is it to dismiss nearly 158 million people as crazy? There is a least some value in what they are saying, and we need to learn to listen to them.
It strikes me as unlikely that Washington will change until we acknowledge that the gridlock is our own fault. It is, therefore, in
Letter from the Executive Director
Staff Danielle Brian, Executive Director Scott Amey, General Counsel Angela Canterbury, Director of Public Policy Paul Chassy, Ph.D., J.D., Investigator John Crewdson, Senior Investigator Lydia Dennett, Research Associate Danni Downing, Editor & COTS Director Abby Evans, Donor Relations Manager Ned Feder, M.D., Staff Scientist Andre Francisco, Online Producer Neil Gordon, Investigator David Hilzenrath, Editor-in-Chief Lynn Mandell, Finance Manager Johanna Mingos, Data Specialist Joe Newman, Director of Communications Chris Pabon, Director of Development Ethan Rosenkranz, National Security Policy Analyst Keith Rutter, Chief Operations Officer & CFO Pam Rutter, Web Manager Michael Smallberg, Investigator Mia Steinle, Investigator Peter Stockton, Senior Investigator Winslow Wheeler, Director of the CDI Straus Military Reform Project Adam Zagorin, Journalist-in-Residence Christine Anderson, Public Policy Fellow Avery Kleinman, Beth Daley Impact Fellow Jamie Neikrie, Intern
Board of Directors David Hunter, Chair Lisa Baumgartner Bonds, Vice Chair Dina Rasor, Treasurer
Ryan Alexander Henry Banta David Burnham Michael Cavallo Stacy Donohue (Observer) Charles Hamel Janine Jaquet Morton Mintz Nithi Vivatrat Anne Zill
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Vol. 17, Issue 3 ■ 3
Letter (continued from page 2) our power to break that gridlock. Please stop and think for a moment. Is there someone in your life with whom you disagree on nearly everything? But they are a family member, an old classmate, a neighbor, and you still love them despite their politics. If you can use that common ground to begin a respectful conversation about one of the issues where you don’t agree, you are taking the first step to fixing Washington. By having that conversation, you might learn to hear with a more open mind what those other people are actually saying: Why do they hate X? Why does Y scare them? That awareness could help make the discussions you enter into with acquaintances at social functions, with friends on your Facebook page, or even with a stranger on an airplane, a little less combative. And you will be more likely to persuade that person to listen to your views as well. With these baby steps, you will help to create a sea change in our culture that will eventually ripple over to Washington, DC. I used to think emphasizing the need for civility in public discourse was a silly luxury. Now I believe it is an urgently needed condition for preserving our democracy.
I know this sounds idealistic. And I welcome your suggestions on how to get our government functioning again. But I believe deeply that we all need to stop complaining and to actually do something to fix our broken system. In the meantime, we at POGO are going to keep pushing for an accountable, effective, open, and ethical federal government that represents all of us.
Danielle Brian, Executive Director
Serious Flaws in Security Screening Processes
In a sad coincidence, on the same day the Pentagon’s Inspector General released an audit report slamming a Navy security screening program, a contractor employee named Aaron Alexis went on a shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard killing 12 people. The report found that flaws in the Navy Commercial Access Control System (NCACS) screening program enabled 52 convicted felons to get unescorted access to Navy facilities, and put military and civilian personnel at an increased security risk. NCACS is administered by a contractor, a security services company called Eid Passport. Eid Passport’s background checks failed to catch applicants’ past convictions for serious crimes, including “indecent liberties with a child.” The program also imposed millions of dollars in extra costs on taxpayers and lacked proper oversight. Meanwhile, Eid Passport, which boasts retired military brass and a former Cabinet secretary on its board of directors, earns millions of dollars in fees from security credentials issued to applicants who may have been inadequately screened. The screening problems do not stop at NCACS or Eid Passport. The background che