Power Wars Blog by Charlie Savage

Intelligence bill would mandate declassification of Gitmo detainee dossiers, curb PCLOB

The House Intelligence Committee (HPSCI) today released the text of the annual intelligence authorization act for 2017 following conference negotiations with the Senate Intelligence Committee (SSCI). Two provisions in it jumped out at me:

DISCLOSING DOSSIERS ABOUT FORMER GITMO DETAINEES

Section 701 requires the government to declassify, and make available to the public, intelligence reports about the (alleged) previous terrorist activities detainees who have been transferred from the Guantanamo Bay prison since it opened in 2002. As an example, it lists the dossiers prepared by the National Counterintelligence Center in advance of the parole-like Periodic Review Board hearings that detainees began receiving in late 2013, or functionally similar files for those detainees who were transferred without going through the PRB process. (It also calls for making public whatever security restrictions the receiving country has agreed to; those tend to be things like keeping an ex-detainee under surveillance and not issuing travel documents to him for at least two years.)

This provision interests me a great deal. While I doubt this is the motivation of the GOP staffers and lawmakers who drafted this provision, I think it could actually do a lot of good for the subset of former Gitmo detainees against whom the evidence of terrorism ties was thin, and who are battling the stigma of having been held there as they try to move on with the remainder of their lives. I have argued that the administration should make public dossiers about detainees developed by the 2009 Gitmo review task force; my understanding is that many of them say there was no credible information that the detainee in question had been involved in conducting or facilitating terrorist activities against the United States or its partners or allies. (That’s close to an exoneration but not quite one; it ambiguously leaves open the possibility that the ex-detainee had been a low-level member of Al Qaeda without actually doing anything bad.) I am also pursuing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit trying to get those documents out.

CREEPING HAMSTRINGING OF THE PRIVACY AND CIVIL LIBERTIES OVERSIGHT BOARD

Sections 601 and 602 keep in provisions that would continue a slow-motion leashing by the intelligence committees of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), a bipartisan five-member panel that Congress created after a recommendation by the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Its members and staff have security clearances and a mandate to investigate government practices that affect individual rights. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has strongly objected to these, so we’ll see if there is a filibuster.

The provisions would change budgeting rules for the board so that it would have to shut down if Congress did not act every year to reauthorize it to spend money, and would require the board to tell the intelligence committees and the heads of intelligence agencies what it is investigating. That follows a provision in last year’s bill that barred the PCLOB from looking at covert activities like the CIA’s drone program.

However the committees dropped another disputed provision in the prior Senate version of the bill that would essentially have limited the PCLOB’s jurisdiction to Americans’ rights, not the privacy of foreigners. That proposal was awkwardly timed because when the earlier Senate version of the bill put it forward, the United States had just pointed to the PCLOB’s role in negotiations with Europe over a recently completed trans-Atlantic agreement for handling private data. The PCLOB’s efforts to watchdog privacy rights was supposed to help to assuage concerns on the continent about using internet and technology companies based in America following Edward Snowden’s leaks about American surveillance capabilities.