Who’s on Piffiab? Anyone concerned with spying, clandestine actions, and the war on terrorism should care about the answer. But is the Bush Administration, in a break with the past, attempting to keep this important information secret? If so, the administration is doing a rather bad job.
The President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board–usually referred to by its acronym–is a group of prominent citizens who offer advice to the President on sensitive intelligence matters. It was established in 1956 by President Eisenhower, and past chairmen have included former Senator Warren Rudman, former House Speaker Thomas Foley, and former Defense Secretary Les Aspin. In recent years, PFIAB has conducted investigations (often through its Intelligence Oversight Board) of spy-community controversies. It examined lax security at Department of Energy nuclear weapons facilities, CIA involvement with Guatemalan military officials who committed human rights abuses, US intelligence failures in Somalia, and the CIA’s cover-its-ass investigation of CIA director John Deutch, who compromised classified information. PFIAB challenged the charge–popular in rightwing circles–that China had stolen nuclear weapons secrets from the United States. (“Possible damage has been minted as probable disaster; workaday delay and bureaucratic confusion has been cast as diabolical conspiracies,” a PFIAB report concluded. “Enough is enough.”)
Last year, President George W. Bush selected Brent Scowcroft to lead PFIAB. Scowcroft, who was national security adviser to President Bush I, possessed appropriate credentials for the post. But the choice posed problems. Scowcroft, a onetime consultant for the oil industry, a board member of Qualcomm, and a past director of Global and Power Pipelines (an Enron subsidiary involved in projects in China, Guatemala, the Philippines, Argentina and Colombia), runs his own business, the Scowcroft Group, which sells intelligence and other services to globe-trotting corporations in the telecom, aerospace, insurance, energy, financial, electronics and food industries. As head of PFIAB, Scowcroft has access to secret information that could be valuable to his clients and his own business endeavors. Can the public be certain that Scowcroft’s business links do not unduly influence his actions as PFIAB chairman or that he does not exploit his PFIAB position to help his clients and his own company? And his close personal relationship to the Bush family could undermine his ability to appear as an independent reviewer of intelligence activities mounted by the Bush administration. Scowcroft, though, recently proved he could take issue with the President by questioning the need to go to war against Iraq.
But Scowcroft does share a dominant trait of the Bush crowd: secrecy. On August 13, I called the PFIAB office and asked for a list of current board members. “That information is provided only on a need-to-know basis,” said Roosevelt Roy, PFIAB’s administrative assistant. And he meant, of course, that a reporter had no need to know.