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The NSA drags its heels over appointment of its privacy officer

NSA-1024x640By Simon Davies

On September 20th the National Security Agency (NSA) called for applications for a new post – “Civil liberties & privacy officer”. Given the crisis the agency has faced in recent months over its constitutionality, just imagine the urgency buzzing throughout the NSA to fill this role – even if just for cosmetic purposes.

But here it is, November, and not a peep has been heard from the Agency. Interview scheduling has not even begun. Two applicants have told the Privacy Surgeon that process has gone into silent mode. Indeed one described the application administration as having “no process” while another – a formerly highly placed government insider – described the process as “fucked up”.

Only a cynic would imagine that the agency is faking its commitment to this new post, or that its Director is intentionally dragging his heels.

It’s not like the Agency is waiting for the eclipse of an application deadline. Indeed the job posting was open ended and had no deadline. In such circumstances the interviews could have been scheduled in early October. Surely that would have been the will of Congress?

Of course in an ideal world the agency is working overtime to get the process just right. Only a cynic would imagine that the agency is faking its commitment to this new post, or that its Director is intentionally dragging his heels. However the timeframe doesn’t inspire confidence. President Obama had announced the creation of this post in early August,  presumably after extensive negotiations with the Agency. However it then took the NSA two and a half months to get even as far as posting the job announcement. Of course the job description had already been agreed some time before then.

Not that anyone expects any serious reform to come out of this new office (if indeed an official is ever appointed). Although press reporting at the time assumed that the successful applicant would be reporting to the Director of the agency, the job specs describe the role as a 0905 (attorney) position, meaning it’s under the General Counsel. That has a significant – perhaps fatal – bearing on independence.

Oh well, no urgency I guess. On the basis of the current timeframe it’s a fair guess that the first round interview process will be completed by February 2014, second round by April, a final decision by June and commencement date in August, just in time to hit the run-on to the US Senate elections – and a chance for the agency to seize even more of a political advantage.

Of course it will be February 2015 before the applicant has gone through the informal probationary period. It then only requires keeping the new officer in suspended animation for a year (write a report; take your time) before the run-up to the next US general elections.

And you thought the NSA was just planning for “business as usual”. Cynic.