Foxes guarding the henhouse?

The 9/11 Commission recommended setting up an organization to help safeguard civil liberties. Sure enough the Bush administration has gone ahead and created a President’s Board on Safeguarding Americans’ Civil Liberties.

Ignoring for the moment the issue that civil liberties should, constitutionally, be protected for everyone and not just US citizens, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the people who are being put in charge of safeguarding your freedoms.

The Deputy Attorney General, James B. Comey.

Quote from Comey: A court of the United States has no jurisdiction…to enjoin the president in the performance of his official duties.

He also explained at length why he thought it was right that Jose Padilla was thrown in a military jail indefinitely and not allowed to talk to a lawyer, even though he is a US citizen and was not officially charged with any crime. Comey’s position was overruled by the Supreme Court, thank goodness.

The Assistant Attorney General (Civil Rights Division), R. Alexander Acosta.

Acosta seems to be one of the Good Guys, having (amongst other things) defended a Muslim student’s right to wear her head scarf at school.

Bryant is a strong supporter of a Constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning. Need I say more?

The Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security at the Department of Homeland Security, Asa Hutchinson.

Hutchinson was formerly head of the DEA, that bastion of concern for the civil liberties of the individual. He pushed the “drugs support terrorism” angle, and favored intensifying the War On (Selected) Drugs. He also supports Constitutional Amendments to ban flag burning and allow official school prayer, and supports banning abortion and gay adoption.

The Assistant Secretary for Information Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security, General Patrick Hughes.

He was a member of the 9/11 Commission, and wrote a series of articles on the theme of global threats to the USA and its interests abroad, for various audiences. His major focus in recent years has been building a massive information sharing network to ensure that law enforcement, homeland security and private contractors at federal, state and local level share information freely, so I’m sure he’ll have something to say about preserving your privacy.

The Assistant Secretary (Policy), Directorate of Border and Transportation Security, part of the Department of Homeland Security; that would be a Mr C. Stewart Verdery, I believe.

Quote from his nomination speech: We all remember well the bipartisan effort which spawned a host of responses to the terrorist attacks, including the PATRIOT Act and the creation of the Transportation Security Administration. Those days exemplified the kind of public service which is truly gratifying.

His department is responsible for visa policy, and is pushing biometric passports—including forcing foreign countries to use biometric passports if they wish to take part in US visa waiver programs.

The Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the Department of Homeland Security, Daniel W. Sutherland.

He’s another of the good guys, having written in favor of immigration reform and against mandatory biometric national IDs.

The Privacy Officer at the Department of Homeland Security, Nuala O’Connor Kelly.

She was the Chief Privacy Officer for…wait for it…DoubleClick. Joking aside, though, she seems to be on the side of light.

The Counsel for Intelligence Policy, Department of Justice, James A. Baker III.

You might recognize that name if you’ve seen Farenheit 9/11. He’s the Senior Counsel for the Carlyle Group, the 10th largest defense contractor in the US, heavily tied to ENRON and the Bin Laden family. He even has a bio page on the George Bush Foundation web site.

The Under Secretary for Enforcement, Department of the Treasury, Stuart Levey.

Coincidentally, he’s was a partner in James Baker’s law firm.

The Assistant Secretary (Terrorist Financing), Department of the Treasury, Juan Zarate.

His job focus has been on stopping the flow of cash to terrorists—while assuring Muslim charities that Bush administration policies were not intended to hurt them.

The General Counsel, Office of Management and Budget.

I think that’s Raymond J. McKenna. His office is part of the General Services Administration, responsible for helping to improve government efficiency by providing office space, office supplies, technology, and services.

I must confess to being unclear why he’s on this particular committee.

The Deputy Director of Central Intelligence for Community Management, Larry C. Kindsvater.

He’s strongly in favor of reorganizing the US intelligence system, which is probably why he was picked.

The Chair of the Privacy Council at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

I can’t find any record of a Privacy Council at the FBI; a search of their web site produces 0 hits.

The General Counsel for the Central Intelligence Agency.

These are the people who advise the CIA on the legality of their assassinations, foreign government coup attempts, and drug running.

The CIA OGC web site doesn’t provide any information naming anyone who works there. They do mention that you can’t work for the CIA OGC in any capacity without a Top Secret clearance, polygraph test, and 6 month background screening. I believe the current General Counsel is still Scott W. Muller. Interestingly, Muller had no intelligence background before getting the job; his background was investigating white collar crime.

Muller apparently thinks the PATRIOT Act didn’t go far enough. As he said at his nomination hearing:

Well, let me start, Senator, by saying that I think the changes that were made in the U.S.A. Patriot Act were clearly necessary in light of the events of September 11 and I think have gone a long way toward creating at the operational level the kind of sharing and collaboration that this Committee and the Intelligence Community and the Bureau and law enforcement think need to occur. There’s a lot of work left to be done.

The General Counsel for the National Security Agency.

I believe this is still Vito T. Potenza, though obviously it’s very hard to find any information on who the NSA’s General Counsel is, or even who Mr Potenza is.

The Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, Stephen Cambone.

The Center for American Progress describe his qualifications as a fierce loyalty to Donald Rumsfeld and an unshakeable right wing ideology and note that he was responsible for sending Major General Geoffrey Miller to Iraq with orders to find more effective ways to interrogate prisoners.

The General Counsel of the Department of Defense, William J. Haynes II

Mr Haynes is the man who wrote the infamous memo listing “interrogation techniques” (i.e. torture) authorized for use at Guantanamo Bay, and was also involved in numerous other dubious legal arguments.

I can’t find much of anything about him.

The Director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, John O. Brennan, a 23 year CIA veteran.

His is the department which is supposed to glue together all the other departments and make sure that the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. It’s also the department that was blamed for embarrassing inaccuracies in the 2003 “Patterns of Global Terrorism” report. It was initially released to a fanfare of congratulation, as it showed that deaths from terrorist activity had fallen thanks to the Bush “War on Terror”. Then, the spurious figures were quietly revised to show that things had actually gotten worse. Brennan explained the errors by saying that their computers were too old and they were understaffed.

So, there we have it. Not a totally one sided panel, but definitely stacked carefully in a particular direction.