Obama meets lawmakers ahead of intelligence reform decisions

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 09, 2014 3:31 PM
Obama meets lawmakers ahead of intelligence reform decisions

By Roberta Rampton and Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama met with 16 lawmakers on Thursday to discuss reforming how U.S. intelligence agencies collect telephone and internet data after damaging revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

"This meeting was an opportunity for the president to hear from the members about the work that they have been doing on these issues since they last met, and solicit their input as we near the end of our internal review," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at a briefing.

Obama is slated to announce decisions on reforms in a speech that could come as early as next week. He is expected to include some restrictions on spying on foreign leaders, changes in storing bulk telephone data and the appointment of a civil liberties defender in secret intelligence courts.

As part of the review, White House officials are reviewing lists of NSA spying targets to weigh whether the risk of embarrassment if snooping on them is exposed is worth any gains to national security from the surveillance.

Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Obama was "in a listening mode" during the meeting.

"He also made clear that some changes should be made to create trust in the program by making them more transparent to the American people," Chambliss said.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he urged Obama at Thursday's meeting to do more to explain to Americans why collecting their phone data protects national security.

"The president has unique information about the merits of these programs and the extent of their usefulness. This information is critical to informing Congress on how far to go in reforming the programs," Goodlatte said in a statement.

Also on Thursday, the House Intelligence Committee said it had received a classified report from the U.S. Defense Department alleging that Snowden's disclosures could put U.S. military personnel "in harm's way and jeopardize the success of current DoD operations."

Shawn Turner, chief spokesman for the office of Director of National Intelligence, did not address the report directly, but told Reuters in an e-mail that Snowden's leaks meant "terrorists and their support networks now have a better understanding of our collection methods and, make no mistake about it, they are taking countermeasures."

Obama met with intelligence officials on Wednesday, as well as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a bipartisan independent panel that also has been reviewing the issue.

On Friday, members of the White House staff are slated to meet with representatives of technology companies, following up on Obama's meeting on the issue last month with executives from Apple Inc, Google Inc, AT&T Inc, Microsoft Corp and others.

"This is another opportunity to share views as the administration nears completion of our internal review of signals intelligence," said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council.

(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Dan Grebler and Cynthia Osterman)