The NSA Meeting Everyone Wants to Attend But Nobody Will Talk About

The first rule of NSA reform meetings at the White House: Don’t talk about NSA reform meetings at the White House.

Obama promised at his end-year press conference last month to have a "pretty definitive statment" on NSA surveillance reform in January.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
Add to Briefcase
Dustin Volz
Jan. 8, 2014, 7:49 a.m.

Cap­it­ol Hill is hold­ing its own ver­sion of Fight Club Wed­nes­day, as a small num­ber of hand-picked in­tel­li­gence staffers are des­cend­ing on the White House this af­ter­noon for a top-secret meet­ing to talk about gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance re­form.

No one ap­pears to know ex­actly what the meet­ing will en­tail or wheth­er the ad­min­is­tra­tion will un­veil any of­fer­ings about re­strict­ing the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s much-ma­ligned tele­phone and In­ter­net data-gath­er­ing tech­niques. And at­tendees are be­ing warned to not di­vulge any of the sens­it­ive in­form­a­tion after the huddle-up, con­tinu­ing a trend of keep­ing NSA re­form talks in the shad­ows even as crit­ics de­ride the gov­ern­ment for fail­ing to be more trans­par­ent about the agency’s sur­veil­lance activ­it­ies.

The Situ­ation Room meet­ing, ahead of an even more tightly guarded one between Pres­id­ent Obama and se­lect law­makers Thursday morn­ing in the Oval Of­fice, has a TS/SCI (top secret/sens­it­ive com­part­men­ted in­form­a­tion) clear­ance rank­ing, mean­ing the con­ver­sa­tion is highly clas­si­fied. As re­cently as Wed­nes­day morn­ing, some in­tel­li­gence staffers said they were un­clear ex­actly who had been ex­ten­ded an in­vit­a­tion or if they would even be al­lowed in the room.

The meet­ings come as Obama is sig­nal­ing an in­terest in an­noun­cing some level of re­form meas­ures be­fore his State of the Uni­on Ad­dress on Jan. 28. Any re­stric­tions on NSA sur­veil­lance would be the first since rev­el­a­tions of the agency’s sweep­ing do­mest­ic and in­ter­na­tion­al data-gath­er­ing pro­grams began sur­fa­cing.

White House press sec­ret­ary Jay Car­ney said Monday that Obama had giv­en his sur­veil­lance re­view task force’s re­com­mend­a­tion “a great deal of con­sid­er­a­tion” and re­viewed its re­port dur­ing his Hawaii va­ca­tion.

Obama “has in­sti­tuted a re­view about the NSA pro­ced­ures and broad­er is­sues that en­com­passes both the re­view group as well as oth­er ele­ments,” Car­ney said. “We know with con­fid­ence that the pres­id­ent will have made some de­cisions about which re­com­mend­a­tions he wants to im­ple­ment, which re­quire fur­ther re­view, and which we will not im­ple­ment, and you will hear him dis­cuss those is­sues later this month.”

The Los Angeles Times re­por­ted last week that Obama in­tends to present a pack­age deal that would con­cede to some of the 46 re­com­mend­a­tions re­leased re­cently by the pres­id­ent’s hand-picked five-mem­ber in­tel­li­gence re­view board. Big-tick­et changes could in­clude pla­cing a pub­lic ad­voc­ate with­in the secret For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court and re­mov­ing the gov­ern­ment’s dir­ect con­trol of the NSA’s tele­phone metadata re­cords. In­stead, the data­base could be main­tained by tele­phone com­pan­ies or by some oth­er, as-yet un­defined, en­tity.

But pri­vacy ad­voc­ates re­main skep­tic­al that Obama in­tends to make any ser­i­ous changes to the NSA, as he re­upped his de­fense of bulk tele­phone and In­ter­net metadata col­lec­tion at his year-end press con­fer­ence last month as a “use­ful tool … to en­sure that if we have a thread on a po­ten­tial ter­ror­ist threat, that that can be fol­lowed ef­fect­ively.”

Obama’s sched­ule this week also in­cludes a meet­ing with the Pri­vacy and Civil Liber­ties Over­sight Board. In ad­di­tion, some tech­no­logy groups have been in­vited to the White House for a fol­low-up to Obama’s meet­ing in Decem­ber with high-wattage tech­no­logy ex­ec­ut­ives.

What We're Following See More »
CITES CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Lieberman Withdraws from Consideration for FBI Job
3 days ago
THE LATEST
MINIMUM 2 PERCENT GDP
Trump Tells NATO Countries To Pay Up
3 days ago
BREAKING
MANAFORT AND FLYNN
Russians Discussed Influencing Trump Through Aides
3 days ago
THE DETAILS

"American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers." The conversations centered around Paul Manafort, who was campaign chairman at the time, and Michael Flynn, former national security adviser and then a close campaign surrogate. Both men have been tied heavily with Russia and Flynn is currently at the center of the FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Source:
BUT WHITE HOUSE MAY USE AGAINST HIM ANYWAY
Ethics Cops Clear Mueller to Work on Trump Case
5 days ago
THE LATEST

"Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been cleared by U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts to oversee an investigation into possible collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign and Russia." Some had speculated that the White House would use "an ethics rule limiting government attorneys from investigating people their former law firm represented" to trip up Mueller's appointment. Jared Kushner is a client of Mueller's firm, WilmerHale. "Although Mueller has now been cleared by the Justice Department, the White House may still use his former law firm's connection to Manafort and Kushner to undermine the findings of his investigation, according to two sources close to the White House."

Source:
BUSINESSES CAN’T PLEAD FIFTH
Senate Intel to Subpoena Two of Flynn’s Businesses
5 days ago
THE LATEST

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-VA) will subpoena two businesses owned by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Burr said, "We would like to hear from General Flynn. We'd like to see his documents. We'd like him to tell his story because he publicly said he had a story to tell."

×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login