President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met with intelligence and privacy experts Wednesday as they look to finalize the White House response to the uproar over the government's vast surveillance programs.
First, they met with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a group which will release a report on the controversial bulk phone collection program and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and then with various leaders of the intelligence community in the afternoon.
"This was a useful opportunity for the president to hear the group’s views directly as we begin to finalize our internal review," said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council.
But Obama is likely to release his changes before the group, which Congress created in 2004 to oversee the government’s expanded intelligence collection operations, releases its report in late January and early February.
"The board welcomes the chance to provide input into the administration's decision-making process as the president evaluates whether and how to reform the Section 215 program and the operations of the FISC," according to a statement from the board.
Obama met with his team, including Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander and others after the meeting with the board.
"This was an important chance for the president to hear directly from his team as he begins to make final decisions about how we move forward with key intelligence collection programs," Hayden said.
Obama suggested in December that he may make significant changes to the government’s surveillance programs, including the contentious mass collection of phone records.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that Obama will announce changes before his State of the Union address Jan. 28.
Since June, former contractor Edward Snowden has leaked documents showing the National Security Agency has been collecting telephone and email records on tens of millions of Americans and foreigners, eavesdropping on allies such as Germany and Brazil, and spying on a host of global institutions.
An advisory panel recommended nearly 50 changes to the NSA’s surveillance programs, which have guided intelligence gathering by the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The proposals include an end to the NSA’s storage of Americans’ telephone records, more stringent handling of Americans’ data that is collected incidentally through targeting foreigners, concrete standards for targeting communications of foreign leaders, and the creation of a public interest advocate to represent Americans’ interest in front of the secret court that authorizes the spying programs.
Obama could administer some of the recommendations through executive actions, but others would require approval from a divided Congress, where support for NSA changes does not fall strictly along party lines.
Obama will meet with a select group of lawmakers at the White House Thursday.