Apparently, David Boren, Chuck Hagel, and Lester Lyles are all currently serving on the Intelligence Oversight Board. Here’s what we had to do to figure that out, and what that means for intelligence oversight and transparency:
The Intelligence Oversight Board, or IOB, is a Presidentially appointed, independent, civilian oversight board charged with ensuring that intelligence investigations comply with laws, executive orders, and internal agency procedures. Toward the end of the Bush Administration, the IOB’s oversight responsibilities were largely gutted, shifting primary responsibility to the Director of National Intelligence. However, shortly after taking office, President Obama rolled back those changes, restoring many of the IOB’s important oversight functions.
Nearly two years after making those changes, though, President Obama still had not announced any appointments to the IOB, nor made clear that any of the members of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board – the larger Presidential intelligence advisory board of which the IOB is a component – were serving on the IOB. Given the IOB’s renewed importance in the intelligence oversight process, its proper functioning is vital to ensure that intelligence agencies are operating within the bounds of the law.
In February 2011, following the White House’s failure to respond to a reporter’s questions concerning the IOB, we submitted a FOIA request to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to determine if, in fact, the IOB had members. We didn’t hear anything for 8 months.
In September, EFF sued the DNI for failing to respond to the request. A week after we filed suit, DNI produced three documents (pdf) that they claimed satisfied our request.
DNI’s production consisted of the bios of three PIAB members – Chuck Hagel, Lester Lyles, and David Boren – with the words “IOB Chair” or “IOB Member” hand-written on the page.
Another consisted of a press release (pdf) announcing appointments to the PIAB, with the words “IOB Mbrs: Hagel (chair), Boren, and Lyles” written on the press release.
The final document was a list of suggested invitees for DNI’s 2010 holiday party. The list is primarily made up of PIAB members, and the fact that Hagel, Boren, and Lyles also serve on the IOB is noted parenthetically.
So, according to DNI, the IOB currently has three members. Determining if the IOB even had members was EFF’s primary goal from the outset, and we’re pleased we were at least able to learn that much. But the government’s treatment of our request and the documents it produced may raise more questions than they answer.
For example, are those documents really the only responsive records in DNI’s possession? Our FOIA request was fairly broad: we asked for all records “reflecting [t]he composition [or] membership” of the IOB. In response, DNI produced two documents that don’t even mention the IOB (aside from the hand-written notations) and a list of holiday party invitees. If those are the only records reflecting the composition of the IOB, it certainly does not suggest that the DNI and the IOB are working closely to ensure that a robust intelligence oversight program is in place. On the other hand, if those aren’t the only responsive records, it means DNI isn’t complying with its legal obligations under FOIA.
Another question: why the unnecessary secrecy? EFF only filed the request after the White House failed to answer a reporter’s questions about the IOB’s membership. Then, it took DNI eight months and the filing of a lawsuit in federal court to produce 12 pages of entirely uncontroversial material. There simply aren’t legitimate reasons for this type of information stonewalling.
Our litigation is still pending, and it’s our hope that some of these questions will be answered by DNI. But, above all else, it’s our hope that the IOB is satisfying its important oversight responsibilities.