White House Edits to Privacy Board's Report Spur Resignation
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
The Bush administration made more than 200 revisions to the first report of a civilian board that oversees government protection of personal privacy, including the deletion of a passage on anti-terrorism programs that intelligence officials deemed "potentially problematic" intrusions on civil liberties, according to a draft of the report obtained by The Washington Post.
One of the panel's five members, Democrat Lanny J. Davis, resigned in protest Monday over deletions ordered by White House lawyers and aides. The changes came after the congressionally created Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board had unanimously approved the final draft of its first report to lawmakers, renewing an internal debate over the board's independence and investigative power.
Some of the changes sought by the administration ultimately were reversed, and some members of the panel said they were not opposed to the others.
But one section deleted by the administration would have divulged that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence's civil liberties protection officer had "conducted reviews of the potentially problematic programs and has established procedures" for intelligence officials to file complaints about possible civil liberties and privacy abuses.
The passage would have been the first public disclosure of an internal review identifying such potentially intrusive intelligence programs. In its place, White House officials suggested more modest language, which ended up as a substitution in the final report.
"I think that kind of involvement does a disservice to any notion of independence by the board and therefore subtracts greatly from the necessary independence that would give the board credibility," said Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the Sept. 11 commission, which recommended the creation of the privacy board.
The panel was created by Congress to address concerns about the government's growing anti-terrorism surveillance powers but placed under the supervision of the White House without investigative tools such as subpoenas. Some in Congress are pushing to make the board completely independent.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino called the editing "standard operating procedure," saying it was appropriate because the board remains legally under the supervision of the Executive Office of the President.
"When you have a formal document going to Congress from any part of the Executive Office of the President, it stands to reason that it must be formally reviewed before it is released," Perino said Monday evening.
The board's vice chairman, Republican Alan Raul, said Monday that he was not concerned about the revisions or the White House's dealings with the board. "I never considered it as though the board was yielding control over the document, but rather obtaining useful review and input," Raul said.
But Davis's resignation letter cited "the extensive redlining of the board's report to Congress by administration officials and the majority of the board's willingness to accept most" of the changes.
The 200-plus changes, most of them deletions, ranged from minor factual and grammatical corrections to revisions of whole passages. The board's report was made public in mid-April.