Appointments, Confirmations & Budgets

Matthew Waxman to be the New NSA General Counsel

By Benjamin Wittes
Saturday, May 9, 2015, 9:31 AM

Shane Harris breaks the fabulous news over at the Daily Beast:

Matthew Waxman, a law professor and former senior national security official in the George W. Bush administration, has been tapped to be the next general counsel for the National Security Agency, sources familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast on Friday.

As the chief legal adviser to the NSA director, the general counsel is on the agency’s senior leadership team and runs an office of more than 100 attorneys who provide legal advice and guidance on surveillance operations. In the wake the Edward Snowden leaks, the general counsel has also been tasked with speaking publicly about the NSA’s actions and defending their legality.

Waxman’s selection hasn’t been announced publicly, but sources told The Daily Beast that he is in the process of gaining security clearance. Waxman declined to comment.

This is great news, though it will unfortunately require that we take Matt off our masthead! Sigh.

In all seriousness, it's an inspired choice both for the agency and for the Obama Administration, which deserves credit for looking for someone of true distinction and gravitas for this position, even in the waning days of an administration. This appointment shows, moreover, that the agency---even after the beating it has taken over the past two years---is still capable of attracting top talent.

Matt is a close personal friend and has also been an important part of growth of this site, in ways both visible and not. So consider my view biased. That said, here it is: Matt is an ideal person for this sort of role, which involves both dispassionate internal legal advice to an agency that has to not only follow the law but be understood to follow the law and, these days anyway, also involves being an outward-facing legal advocate to explain in public and semi-public settings the agency's legal authorities and limitations. Rajesh De did a great service in this regard in the crisis that followed the Snowden revelations. Matt's job will be to continue this work through the protracted period of legislative wrangling and recalibration that will continue for the indefinite future.

Congratulations both to Matt himself and to the administration on this one.