President Barack Obama named his controversial former regulatory czar – who as an academic advocated government infiltration of conspiracy theorists – to serve on the NSA oversight panel.
Cass Sunstein, who served as the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs throughout most of the Obama's first term, advocated numerous policies as an academic – including the government infiltrating conspiracy theorist groups by joining “chat rooms, online social networks and real space groups,” in a 2008 paper he co-wrote at Harvard, as recently reported by The Washington Post.
"Those who subscribe to conspiracy theories may create serious risks, including risks of violence, and the existence of such theories raises significant challenges for policy and law," the 2008 paper said.
"The first challenge is to understand the mechanisms by which conspiracy theories prosper; the second challenge is to understand how such theories might be undermined." It continues, "Because those who hold conspiracy theories typically suffer from a crippled epistemology, in accordance with which it is rational to hold such theories, the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups. Various policy dilemmas, such as the question whether it is better for government to rebut conspiracy theories or to ignore them, are explored in this light."
The website ZeroHedge.com went so far as to ask if Sunstein is “America’s Goebbels?"
The National Security Agency oversight panel is mostly made up of national security experts such as former Central Intelligence Agency Acting Director Michael Morell and former White House anti-terrorism official Richard Clarke.
In another controversial stance, Sunstein advocated in a 2003 paper titled “Lives, Life-Years, and Willingness to Pay” for the University of Chicago that the government assign a higher monetary value to the lives of young people than to senior citizens with regards to health care spending. That's a position he backed away from during testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee in June 2011.
“I’m a lot older now than the author with my name was, and I’m not sure what I think about what that young man wrote,” Sunstein, 56, told the House committee when asked if he would apply that view to the Independent Payment Advisory Board. “Things written as an academic are not a legitimate part of what we do as a government official. So I am not focusing on sentences that a young Cass Sunstein wrote years ago. So the answer is no.”
The 2008 book “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness” that Sunstein wrote with co-author Richard H. Thaler, argued for the government policy of “presumed consent” for organ donations. “Presumed consent preserves freedom of choice, but it is different from explicit consent because it shifts the default rule. Under this policy, all citizens would be presumed to be consenting donors, but they would have the opportunity to register their unwillingness to donate.”
Sunstein is the husband of newly named ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power.