- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2013

A long-awaited review of U.S. mass surveillance and data-collection programs produced a laundry list of recommendations for how the Obama administration should clean up its intelligence-gathering efforts to better protect sensitive information and the privacy of American citizens.

But it remains to be seen whether the lengthy blueprint, produced by a five-member board hand-picked by the president, is translated into concrete reforms or simply gathers dust on the shelves of the West Wing.

A day after the review was made public by the White House, administration officials stressed that President Obama and his national security team will review the report in detail and remain open to all but one of the panel’s 46 suggestions.

The White House already has rejected a proposal to separate the National Security Agency — at the center of the firestorm surrounding data-collection and surveillance efforts following a series of leaks by former agency contractor Edward Snowden — and the Pentagon’s cyberwarfare arm. That recommendation also included putting a civilian at the head of the NSA, but the administration ruled that out even before the report was released.

Beyond that, the 45 other detailed suggestions are on the table and could be implemented in some form, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday.

The 45 remaining recommendations “merit serious consideration and the president looks forward to spending time reviewing that report and working with the other elements in the overall internal review to reach conclusions about reforms we can put in place,” he told reporters.

But on specifics, the administration remains tight-lipped. Pressed repeatedly, Mr. Carney refused to engage in what he called “a line-by-line assessment,” and added that over the next several weeks, administration officials “will not be in a position to comment on the individual proposals made by the review group.”

The president is expected to decide what changes will be made and announce them publicly next month.

For now, the report stands as a stinging indictment of current government’s programs and policies.

It found that many of the intelligence community’s practices should be rolled back. Most notably, the review group said the NSA’s phone-records collection program — in which mass amounts of “metadata” are stored by the government for future analysis if and when suspicion arises — must be dramatically changed.

The group recommended that the data be stored by independent third parties, such as phone companies, and that the government should only be allowed to access it when it can prove it in specific cases that it must do so for security reasons.

The study also found that the government needs to rein in the secret court that oversees broader intelligence operations and it called for greater transparency and for more information to be revealed to Congress.

On the same day the White House assured Americans it will seriously consider changes, a key Republican lawmaker demanded that the U.S. Justice Department investigate the nation’s top intelligence official for lying to Congress about the programs in question.

Rep F. James Sensenbrenner, author of 2001’s Patriot Act, and several other senior members of the House Judiciary Committee said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was not being honest when he denied that the federal government was collecting Americans’ phone records.

During testimony to a Senate committee in March, Mr. Clapper was asked if the NSA collected “any type of data at all” on hundreds of millions of Americans, and he said, “No, sir.”

In June, he retracted that statement, saying it was “erroneous.”

His reversal, however, wasn’t enough for some Republicans on Capitol Hill.

“Director Clapper’s willful lie under oath fuels the unhealthy cynicism and distrust that citizens feel toward their government and undermines Congress’s ability to perform its constitutional function,” the GOP lawmakers wrote in their letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

The lawmakers said Congress’ duty to oversee the executive branch can’t work if administration officials are free to lie without repercussions.

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