Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) - Members
The PIDB consists of nine members, five appointed by the President, and one each by the Speaker and Minority Leader of the House, and the Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate. The PIDB’s founding statute requires the appointment of U.S. citizens who are preeminent in the fields of history, national security, foreign policy, intelligence policy, social science, law, or archival science.
On January 11, 2023, Alissa M. Starzak became Acting Chair under the PIDB bylaws, pending the appointment of a Chair by the President. First appointed on February 27, 2018, to serve a three-year term on the PIDB by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, the PIDB members elected her as Vice Chair in 2018; authorizing legislation extended her first three-year term through February 15, 2022, and on February 1, 2022, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer announced his intention to appoint Ms. Starzak for a new three-year term that will end on February 14, 2025. In addition to Ms. Starzak, three PIDB members were appointed by Congressional leadership: on January 13, 2022, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his intention to appoint Carter Burwell to serve on the PIDB for a three-year term beginning on February 15, 2022. On July 1, 2020, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed John F. Tierney to his second three-year term ending on June 30, 2023. On August 24, 2020, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy appointed Harold W. (“Trey”) Gowdy, III to a three-year term ending on August 23, 2023.
Five PIDB members were appointed by Presidents: on January 11, 2021, President Donald J. Trump appointed Ezra Cohen to serve as the Chair for a two-year term that ended on January 10, 2023, in a three-year term as a PIDB member that will end on January 10, 2024. President Trump also appointed the following PIDB members to three-year terms: Paul-Noel Chretien, to serve from December 30, 2020 to December 29, 2023; Michael G. Lawrence, to serve from October 9, 2020 to October 8, 2023; and Benjamin A. Powell, to serve from October 9, 2020 to October 8, 2023. President Joseph Biden appointed Laura A. DeBonis to serve from November 30, 2021 to December 29, 2023.
Current Members Biographies
On December 30, 2020, President Donald J. Trump appointed Paul-Noel Chretien to a three-year term on the PIDB. Mr. Chretien began his legal career in private practice at a Washington, DC, law firm and then moved to the U.S. Department of Justice, where he practiced Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Privacy Act law. He represented federal agencies in court, adjudicated over 1,200 administrative appeals of FOIA determinations by Justice Department components, and taught classes on the FOIA and Privacy Act. From 2000 until 2019, Mr. Chretien worked at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), where he held a variety of positions, including Chairman of the Publications Review Board and Liaison Representative to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) at the National Archives. In his role as Liaison Representative, Mr. Chretien was responsible for justifying either the declassification of CIA documents or their continued classification to protect national security. For his work at the ISCAP, the Information Security Oversight Office recognized Mr. Chretien with an honorary Notice for his significant contributions to the increased productivity of the panel. Mr. Chretien also served as a Senior Reviewer for the High-Value Detainee Prosecution Task Force; Associate Privacy and Civil Liberties Officer; Inspector in the Office of Inspector General; and Chief Policy Officer in the Office of Identity Management. Mr. Chretien retired from the CIA in 2019 and is now a management consultant and technical writer at Leidos. Mr. Chretien graduated with honors from Virginia Tech, with a B.A. in economics. He received his J.D. from the George Washington University Law School.
On January 11, 2021, President Donald J. Trump appointed Ezra Cohen to a three-year term on the PIDB and designated him to serve as Chair for a two-year term that ended on January 10, 2023. Prior to his appointment to the PIDB, Mr. Cohen served in senior leadership positions at the Department of Defense (DoD) and Intelligence Community, most recently as the Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security and Director for Defense Intelligence, Office of the Director of National Intelligence from November 2020 to January 2021. In this role, he exercised authority, direction, and control over the Defense Intelligence Enterprise and Combat Support Agencies. Additionally, he served as the principal civilian intelligence advisor to the Secretary of Defense on all military intelligence related matters, including signals intelligence, human intelligence, sensitive activities, geospatial intelligence, sensitive reconnaissance, counterintelligence, law enforcement, and security. His previous government positions include Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC); Principal Deputy Assistance Secretary of Defense for SO/LIC; Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counter-Narcotics and Global Threats; Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Intelligence Programs on the National Security Council; Deputy Defense Intelligence Officer for South Asia at the Defense Intelligence Agency; and as a DoD Operations Officer. Mr. Cohen began his government service as an intern researching 1820’s tariff legislation in the Center for Legislative Archives, a part of the National Archives and Record Administration. Mr. Cohen has also worked in the private sector for Oracle Corporation. Mr. Cohen received a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from the University of Pennsylvania.
Laura A. DeBonis was appointed by President Joseph Biden to serve a term on the Board from November 30, 2021 through December 29, 2023.* Ms. DeBonis previously served on the PIDB from 2015-2018 as an appointee of President Barack Obama. She has over 20 years of experience in the information technology and media fields. She currently serves as a board member and treasurer for the Digital Public Library of America, an organization dedicated to creating an open network of online resources from libraries, archives and museums and making them freely available to all. Her past professional experience includes a variety of leadership roles at Google, including her last position there as the Director of Library Partnerships for Book Search. Since Google, Ms. DeBonis has been a consultant to business startups and non-profit organizations, including chairing the technology review team for the Internet Safety Technical Task Force at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University. Ms. DeBonis is an emerita trustee for the WGBH Educational Foundation in Boston and has also served as a trustee of the Boston Public Library. She received a B.A. from Harvard College and a M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. Ms. DeBonis is serving her second term on the PIDB.
On October 9, 2020, President Donald J. Trump appointed Michael G. Lawrence to a three-year term on the PIDB. Mr. Lawrence entered the Senior Executive Service in 1999. He retired in June 2019 after a 20+ year career in the Intelligence Community, where he held leadership positions at several intelligence agencies. In his last assignment, he set up and then served as the Director of the Enterprise Functional Team at the National Security Agency (NSA). Previously, he served as the Senior Advisor to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) from 2013 to 2018. In this role, he was responsible for advising the DNI and other IC senior leaders on capabilities, policy, coordination, and oversight relating to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Between 2008 and 2013, Mr. Lawrence served as the National Security Agency Chair at the National Defense University (NDU) at Ft. McNair. In this role, he was the highest-ranking Intelligence Officer at NDU. As a member of the faculty, he taught courses on Strategic Leadership and Executive Communication for Strategic Leaders, Space and Industry, Media and Industry, and courses on regional security issues. Mr. Lawrence was awarded the Meritorious Civilian Award by the Joint Chiefs of Staff for instructing the next generation of Senior Military leaders. Mr. Lawrence served as the Director in the Office of Strategic Communications, Business Plans, and Operations at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) from 2007 to 2008 where he was responsible for directing and implementing all NRO interactions with the Congress, Intelligence Community, and other executive branch agencies, the press, and the private sector. Mr. Lawrence received the NRO’s Distinguished Service Medal for his work. Between 2001 and 2007, he served as the Principal Director for Legislative Affairs at the NSA and provided critical leadership in shepherding critical legislation through Congress to support the NSA’s post-9/11 Mission. He received the Director’s Distinguished Service Medal for this work to support NSA’s mission. Mr. Lawrence began his career at the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the legislative affairs office, rising to become the Acting Director. Mr. Lawrence graduated with honors from John Jay College, with a BS in Criminal Justice. He also attended Western Michigan University Law School. Currently, Mr. Lawrence is a volunteer with Sowing Seeds in Marshfield, MA.
On October 9, 2020, President Donald J. Trump appointed Benjamin A. Powell to a three-year term on the PIDB. Mr. Powell is currently a partner at WilmerHale, where he co-chairs the cybersecurity and privacy practice. Mr. Powell was confirmed by the Senate as General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in 2006. He served as General Counsel to the first three Directors of National Intelligence. He served as Special Assistant to the President and Associate White House Counsel from 2002 to 2006, where he was responsible for Intelligence Community-related legislation and intelligence transformation initiatives. This included efforts related to the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, National Counterterrorism Center, enhancing Central Intelligence Agency capabilities, and terrorism information sharing. He was the White House representative to the President’s Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. The Commission examined issues related to the Intelligence Community’s approach to threats from Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya, Al-Qaeda, and other entities. Mr. Powell clerked on the United States Supreme Court for Justices John Paul Stevens and Byron White, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit for Judge John M. Walker, Jr. Mr. Powell served in the United States Air Force prior to law school and also worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As an officer in the Air Force, Mr. Powell supported intelligence missions of the United States Space Command Joint Space Intelligence Center, Fleet Intelligence Centers, National Maritime Intelligence Center, United States Central Command, Air Combat Command, and counter-narcotics tactical intelligence centers. Mr. Powell received degrees in applied science from the School of Engineering and Applied Science and in finance from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his J.D. degree from Columbia Law School.
On January 13, 2022, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his intention to appoint Carter Burwell to serve on the PIDB for a three-year term beginning on February 15, 2022. Mr. Burwell currently serves as Counsel in the White Collar and Regulatory Defense practice at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. Before joining the firm in 2021, Mr. Burwell spent more than 15 years in various senior roles across the federal government. Most recently, Mr. Burwell served as Counselor to the Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, where he was responsible for helping to lead the Department’s national security mission. Prior to his time at the Treasury Department, Mr. Burwell served as one of the top lawyers on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, including as Chief Counsel to former Assistant Majority Leader and U.S. Senator John Cornyn and as Counsel to former Chairman and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley. In the Senate, Mr. Burwell worked to reform and modernize national security and technology laws and conducted rigorous oversight of government officials. Mr. Burwell began his career in public service as a counter-terrorism prosecutor at the Department of Justice, where he served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Violent Crime and Terrorism Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York and in the National Security and International Crimes Unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Earlier in his career, Mr. Burwell was a law clerk for the Honorable John Gleeson, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of New York, and for the Honorable Karen Henderson on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Mr. Burwell is also an adjunct professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School and was a Wasserstein Fellow at Harvard Law School. Mr. Burwell received his J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law, an M.Phil from the University of Cambridge, and a B.A. from Columbia University.
On August 24, 2020, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy appointed Harold W. (“Trey”) Gowdy, III to a three-year term on the PIDB. Mr. Gowdy served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from South Carolina’s 4th congressional district from 2011-2019. In Congress, Rep. Gowdy’s committee assignments included the Judiciary Committee, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the Education and Workforce Committee, and the Ethics Committee. He chaired the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the U.S. House Select Committee on Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attacks in Benghazi. Prior to entering Congress, he served for 16 years as a prosecutor in South Carolina, including six years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and federal prosecutor, and ten years as the elected 7th Circuit Solicitor for Cherokee and Spartanburg Counties. Mr. Gowdy holds a Bachelor of Arts in History from Baylor University (1986), and a Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina (1989). He clerked for John Gardner on the South Carolina Court of Appeals and for U.S. District Judge George Anderson, Jr. After retiring from Congress, Mr. Gowdy returned to Greenville, SC where he is a Partner in the law firm Nelson, Mullins, Riley, and Scarborough. Mr. Gowdy is a public speaker and the author of Doesn’t Hurt to Ask: Using the Power of Questions to Communicate, Connect, and Persuade (August 18, 2020).
Alissa M. Starzak (Acting Chair)
On January 11, 2023, Ms. Starzak became Acting Chair under the PIDB bylaws, pending the appointment of a Chair by the President of the United States. First appointed by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer on February 27. 2018, to serve a three-year term, the PIDB members elected her as Vice Chair in 2018. She then served as Vice Chair and Acting Chair from June 5, 2020, to January 10, 2021, pending the appointment of a Chair by the President. Authorizing legislation extended her first three-year term ending on February 26, 2021, through February 15, 2022. On February 1, 2022, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer announced his intention to appoint Alissa M. Starzak to serve for a new three-year term, which began on February 15, 2022, and will end on February 14, 2025. Ms. Starzak is currently Vice President and Global Head of Public Policy at Cloudflare, a web security and optimization company. Prior to joining Cloudflare, Ms. Starzak worked for the U.S government in a variety of national security positions. Most recently, she served as the 21st General Counsel of the U.S. Department of the Army, after confirmation by the Senate. As General Counsel of the Army, she was the primary legal counsel to the Secretary of the Army and the Army’s chief legal officer. Her appointment as Army General Counsel followed service as the Deputy General Counsel for Legislation at the U.S. Department of Defense, where she advised on legal issues with a legislative or congressional component and managed an office of attorneys responsible for developing the Department of Defense legislative program. Prior to moving to the Department of Defense, Ms. Starzak served as Counsel to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, focusing on legal issues relating to intelligence collection and covert action, and as an Assistant General Counsel at the Central Intelligence Agency’s Office of General Counsel. She also worked in private practice in Washington, D.C., and clerked for The Honorable E. Grady Jolly, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. She graduated from Amherst College and the University of Chicago Law School, where she served as an editor of the University of Chicago Law Review. Ms. Starzak is serving her second term on the PIDB.
On July 1, 2020, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed John F. Tierney to a new three-year term on the PIDB. He previously was appointed by the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives on July 11, 2017, for a three-year term that was extended to June 29, 2021, in the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. He resigned his position on the PIDB on June 30, 2020, to realign the House of Representatives appointments. His current three-year term will end on June 30, 2023. He is presently Executive Director at the Center for Arms Control & Non-Proliferation and its sister organization, The Council for a Livable World. His work focuses on national security issues, nuclear non-proliferation, missile defense, and areas concerning peace and security. Mr. Tierney is a former nine-term Massachusetts Congressman who served on the House Intelligence Committee and chaired the National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee of the Government Oversight and Reform Committee. His 18-year career included oversight of the Government Accountability Office’s annual assessment of the Pentagon’s Weapons Selection Programs and reform of overall Pentagon spending. Additionally, Mr. Tierney was a senior member of the Education and Workforce Committee of the House, where he served as Ranking Member on the Health, Employment, Labor and Pension Subcommittee, and served on the Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee where he had a prominent role in several Higher Education Reauthorization and Workforce Opportunity Reauthorization Acts and related legislation. Prior to being elected to Congress, Mr. Tierney was a Partner in the law firm Tierney, Kalis, and Lucas, counsel for several community governments, a Trustee of Salem State College (now University), and member and President of the local Chamber of Commerce. He holds a B.A. from Salem State College and J.D. from Suffolk University Law School.
* Note: Though PIDB members typically serve for 3-year terms, Ms. DeBonis' official appointment from the White House Office of the Executive Clerk stipulated that the appointment is for the remainder of the term expiring on December 29, 2021, vice Adam Telle.