Obama, who could announce his intelligence reforms in a speech as
early as next week, is acting in an attempt to restore Americans'
confidence in U.S. intelligence services after damaging disclosures
from former spy contractor Edward Snowden about the sweep of
Obama reviewed the progress of the administration's review in a
meeting with James Clapper, the director of U.S. intelligence, and
Keith Alexander, the National Security Agency director, as well as
Attorney General Eric Holder and Vice President Joe Biden.
"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," said Caitlin
Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council.
Obama also met with members of the Privacy and Civil Liberties
Oversight Board, a bipartisan independent panel that has been
reviewing U.S. surveillance practices, including the collection of
telephone data and the operations of the Foreign Intelligence
The privacy oversight board said it would offer its findings to
Obama in late January or early February, meaning its recommendations
will not get to the president until after he has already announced
his reform plans.
Obama is due to meet several U.S. lawmakers on Thursday as he firms
up his review.
The reform plan is expected to include some restrictions on spying
on foreign leaders, an issue that arose late last year when it was
reported that the National Security Agency had monitored German
Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone.
Obama spoke to Merkel by phone on Wednesday, but the White House
said the conversation was for Obama to express condolences over her
breaking her pelvis recently in a cross-country skiing accident.
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An outside group had recommended to Obama last month that before
spying on foreign leaders, U.S. leaders should determine whether
such surveillance is merited by significant threats to national
security and whether the country involved is one "whose leaders we
should accord a high degree of respect and deference."
Obama is also open to changes in taking the storage of bulk
telephone data out of direct government control, administration
officials say. One option would be to allow some bulk phone data
collected by intelligence agencies to be kept by private companies
instead of the U.S. government.
Revelations about the government's ability to monitor Americans'
phone and email traffic were among the most dramatic disclosures
from Snowden, who is currently living in temporary asylum in Russia
and sought by the United States to face espionage charges.
Obama is also seeking to make sure that civil liberties concerns
have greater prominence in the deliberations of the top-secret
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves law
enforcement requests to conduct surveillance of Americans or
One proposal he is considering is to put a public advocate on the
court to ensure adversarial views are heard.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; editing by G Crosse)
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