White House to release NSA review report

McClatchy Washington BureauDecember 18, 2013 

The White House said today it will release the full report of a task force that's recommended 46 changes to the sweeping and controversial National Security Agency surveillance program.

Press Secretary Jay Carney said the report is being released weeks before it had planned to release it due to "inaccurate and incomplete reports in the press" about the report.

The White House got the report last week and Obama met with members of the task force today. The White House is reviewing its recommendations and Obama will announce in January which recommendations he'll accept, which will be tweaked -- and which he'll reject.

"He wants to and his team wants to take time to assess it, to review it," Carney said of the report.

The work is the product of the review group on intelligence and communications technologies that Obama established earlier this year to review and recommend changes to the spying program.

Carney said Obama will likely bring the report with him when he leaves for Hawaii on Christmas break on Friday.

He said the reviewers were charged with looking at U.S. intelligence gathering to ensure that its "properly accounting for both the security of our citizens and our allies and the privacy concerns -- shared by Americans and citizens around the world."

He said Obama has been clear that "even as we review our efforts and make some changes in how we do things, we will not harm our ability to face those threats."

Still, Carney said Obama believes "we need to make sure that we're not gathering intelligence solely because we can, but because we must, because we need it in order to achieve the objective of protecting the United States, protecting the American people, protecting our allies."

The release comes just days after a federal judge on Monday concluded that a NSA program that collects massive amounts of telephone data “likely” violates the Constitution. Though that ruling is stayed, the legal argument is likely to end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

In his decision, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon of Washington took note of what he called the “almost Orwellian technology that enables the government to store and analyze the phone metadata of every telephone user in the United States."

California Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff, a member of the House intelligence committee, called the board's recommendation that the bulk collection of Americans' phone records be replaced by a restructuring of the surveillance program a "very positive step forward."

He said the board "clearly concurred with technical and legal experts who demonstrated that the retention of records by phone companies, rather than the bulk collection of records by the government, serves the same national security purposes while being more protective of Americans' privacy interests."

Schiff suggested that with Leon's decision and with Congress likely to take action to reining in the program, Obama would be "well served to take the advice of the board and restructure the program as soon as possible.

"It would be better to have this undertaken in an orderly and expeditious fashion, than to wait for it to be compelled by the Congress or the courts," he said.

The spy program began during George W. Bush's administration, and has been continued through Barack Obama’s presidency. The program operates by having FBI agents obtain orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, directing telecommunications companies to turn over the information on an ongoing, daily basis.

Revelations about the scope of the program have angered civil libertarians since the first details began to leak out in June, thanks to documents obtained by former government contractor, Edward Snowden.


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