Obama Resurrects Intel Advisory Panel

Chuck Burton/AP

President Obama named six new members to the board -- including the CEO of UPS.

The Obama administration is resuscitating a small intelligence council after membership dwindled to four people a year ago.

The President's Intelligence Advisory Board -- not to be confused with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board -- is intended to enhance the effectiveness of surveillance activities.

The White House late Thursday announced the appointments of six new members with backgrounds in technology research, telecommunications policy, cloud computing, financial regulation, the shipping business and private investment. 

President Obama’s timing is curious, some national security experts say.

Amid the past year’s uproar over domestic spying, it was privacy watchdog PCLOB that gathered steam, issuing two major reports on National Security Agency surveillance.

The country is now dealing with emergencies in the Middle East, Russia and Ukraine.

“Revamping the PIAB would have made more sense two or four years ago,” said Steven Aftergood, who studies government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. “Presumably (the president) came to feel a need for what the PIAB tries to provide -- independent analysis and advice that looks beyond the immediate crises of the day.”

Bringing membership up to ten, the new members include:

  • James S. Crown, president of investment group Henry Crown and Company, who also serves on the board of trustees at the Aspen Institute
  • Scott Davis, UPS chief executive officer and a former member of the President’s Export Council
  • Jamie Dos Santos, former CEO of Web services provider Terremark Federal Group and current member of the President's National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee
  • Julius Genachowski, former Federal Communications Commission chairman
  • Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and former Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman
  • Neal S. Wolin, former Treasury deputy secretary

The additions are unlikely to affect any policy on Obama’s watch.

"It will take months or longer for the new PIAB to accomplish anything useful, and by that time it may be too late for this president to act on its recommendations,” Aftergood said.

He also noted, “The CEO of UPS was not an obvious candidate for the job.”

The shipping firm has been in the news recently with accusations that deliveries were intercepted by the NSA to bug computers as well as disclosures about a payment system hack affecting 51 retail locations nationwide. 

The postal and shipping industries are considered “critical infrastructure” that are crucial for sustaining the U.S. economy, according to the Department of Homeland Security. 

"Perhaps the choice reflects a view of intelligence as a competitive enterprise that aims to serve a customer base while being enabled by technology and constrained by cost limits," Aftergood said. 

A January presidential directive to reform NSA intelligence collection tasked the board with devising ways to distinguish between metadata and other types of information and options for replacing the "need-to-know" model of information sharing with a "work-related access" model.

Recommendations were due to Obama in May, but the assessment, like most of the board's reports, is not public.