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Intelligence Policy Likely Destined for Revisions, Not Rollback

Interviewee: Sanford V. Levinson, University of Texas Law School
Interviewer: Greg Bruno, Staff Writer, CFR.org
July 16, 2009

Sanford V. Levinson, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a frequent commentator on post-9/11 intelligence matters, says the Obama administration may have no choice but to keep some aspects of the Bush-era counterterrorism policies that have attracted growing criticism from Democratic lawmakers. But Levinson says Obama would be wise to keep Congress better informed on such matters than Bush did. Even still, Levinson says that for political reasons major changes to intelligence policy-from the release of CIA photos depicting torture to whether to endorse an investigation of past practices-may only come by way of court order, not congressional fiat.

As calls mount among majority Democrats in Congress for a full accounting of Bush-era programs, Levinson cites disappointment with President Barack Obama for resisting calls to investigate. "I don't think you can underestimate the importance of the fact that Obama ran on a platform of greater transparency," Levinson says. "There was a great deal of confidence that he was not only going to replace Bush but also really cast some light on what had happened." Obama has repeatedly expressed reluctance to review controversial Bush administration practices, instead declaring a desire to move on.

Levinson says the needs of the intelligence community have changed dramatically since 2001, and from a legal perspective "there will inevitably be certain modifications of our notions of privacy, [and] the degree of discretion we are willing to give the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies."

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