Obama Boosts White House Intel Advisory Board

In a move that will strengthen internal executive branch oversight of intelligence, President Obama this week said that a White House intelligence oversight board will be required to alert the Attorney General whenever it learns of “intelligence activities that involve possible violations of Federal criminal laws.” A similar requirement for the board to notify the Attorney General had been canceled by President Bush in February 2008.  President Obama reversed that step in his executive order 13516 on the authorities of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB) and the Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB).

The new Obama order also restores to the PIAB and the IOB some of the other teeth that the Bush Administration had removed.  The order states that the Director of National Intelligence and others “shall provide such information and assistance as the PIAB and the IOB determine is needed to perform their functions.”  The Bush order had only spoken of “such information and assistance as the PIAB and the IOB may need to perform functions under this order.”  So the new order (like the prior Clinton order) helpfully specifies that the PIAB and the IOB are the ones who will “determine” what they need–not the DNI or anyone else.

The Obama order does not restore the Clinton-era requirement that all intelligence agencies heads report quarterly to the IOB.  Instead, as in the Bush order, the DNI is to report to the Board at least twice a year.

The Obama order states that the PIAB membership should be comprised of individuals “who are not full-time employees of the Federal Government.”  Previously, they had to be “not employed by the Federal Government” at all.  The basis for this change is unclear.

Strengthening internal oversight of intelligence activities is among the easiest of changes to Bush Administration intelligence policy that the Obama Administration could be expected to make.  The action does not entail any increase in public disclosure or congressional reporting concerning intelligence activities, not does it infringe on executive authority in any way.

On October 28, President Obama announced the appointment of former Senators Chuck Hagel and David Boren to the PIAB, which had been vacant until then.

“We are off to a good start with this meeting by welcoming the press, which past advisory boards have rarely done,” the President said. “That’s a reflection of my administration’s commitment to transparency and open government, even, when appropriate, on matters of national security and intelligence.”  But judging from a published transcript, no matters of substance were discussed and no questions from the press were taken at the meeting.

No Responses to “Obama Boosts White House Intel Advisory Board”

  1. Dredd October 30, 2009 at 10:32 AM #

    One problem with this is that the military come under military law in many instances, which protects them from civilian prosecutions sometimes.

    They study and watch many things, including wiggle room.

  2. Philip Henika October 30, 2009 at 10:48 AM #


    There are an increasing number of citations re: an improved ability of domestic and foreign Intel Agencies to foil e.g. Al Qaeda plots. In some cases, it has been suggested that investigations of Al Qaeda plots have generated sufficient details for ‘real time’ prevention. Madeleine Gruen has posted a detailed timeline for the activities of N. Zazi at the Counterterrorism Blog in what has been called the most significant plot since 9/11. Therefore, I am surprised that “no matters of substance were discussed and no questions from the press were taken at the meeting.” So, one my questions is: does Intel oversight include the possible ramifications of ‘real time’ prevention which I suspect may also intrude, in real time, on privacy issues?

  3. Robert Cerra November 3, 2009 at 4:40 AM #

    THe PIAB and the IOB are very encouraging developments, but what we really need is for the Obama Administration to just be honest with the American people and tell the CIA and the rest of them to simply remain in their offcices and refrain from conducting any intelligence gathering operations and when necessary report any possible violations of law to their superiors.

    I agree with Mr Dredd we need to get those pesky military types under control. Mr Henika needs to rethink his ideas of interrupting a terrroist plot. Common sense suggests that the CIA is at or near the CYA mode as they react to all the recent inquiries, investigations and oversights thrown in their path.

  4. Philip Henika November 4, 2009 at 1:40 PM #

    Mr. Cerra:

    Here is the citation (1) and a quote that piqued my curiosity re: ‘real time’ prevention of terrorist plots. Another contemporary ‘real time’ example was CNN reporting on ‘real time’ events during the Iran election protests. CNN responsibly included disclaimers i.e. independent verification of people and events takes time away from ‘real time’ – right?

    (1) http://gsn.nti.org/gsn/nw_20090909_2698.php

    Foiled Plot Offers Clues to Recent Absence of Major Terror Attacks on West
    Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2009
    By James Kitfield
    National Journal

    “”Without going into the details of a specific case, I will tell you that if we want to succeed in this fight against Islamic radical terrorism, we have to work together in sharing information and strategies, and we have to do it in real time, because this type of information has little value if we share it only after attacks have already taken place,” Camacho, Spain’s counterterrorism chief, emphasized. That is the lesson not only of the Barcelona and Madrid plots, he says, but also of the 9/11 attacks in the United States.”