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Obama expected to curb spying on foreign leaders, limit NSA access to phone records

Published time: January 09, 2014 17:41
US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo / Nicholas Kamm)

US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo / Nicholas Kamm)

The White House is in the midst of hosting a flurry of meetings with intelligence officials, civil libertarians and technology experts as the administration prepares to announce changes to some of the surveillance programs exposed by Edward Snowden.

According to preliminary reports, United States President Barack Obama could soon ask the National Security Agency to stop storing the telephone records of millions of Americans and also scale back the spying endeavors that target foreign leaders.

President Obama spent Wednesday talking face-to-face with the United States’ intelligence community’s top players, including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander, and on Thursday he is expected to host a closed-door meeting between White House aides and key members of Congress. As RT reported previously, the chairs of both the Senate and House intelligence committees are expected to attend that outing, and invitations were extended to other lawmakers who have expressed interest in reforming the NSA but few others.

The president is reportedly close to announcing what changes he’ll ask be made to the NSA’s operations that have served as a thorn of the side of his administration since Snowden, a former intelligence contractor, began leaking classified documents to the media last June detailing those programs.

“These meetings are an opportunity for the president to hear from key stakeholders as we near the end of our review,” National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden told the Guardian newspaper this week.

An independent review group handpicked by the president in August released a report last month containing 46 recommendations for reforming the NSA, and on Thursday the Associated Press reported that Mr. Obama is expected to endorse two of those suggestions — particularly the pair involving the bulk collection of telephone metadata and spying on foreign leaders.

The AP reported that the president is expected to make his decision as early as next week, and other outlets have previously reported that he’ll reveal those proposals before the State of the Union Address on January 28.

In the interim, White House officials are expected to meet Thursday with figures from groups critical of the NSA’s operations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Open Technology Institute and the Cato Institute. Pres. Obama is not expected to attend that event.

Pres. Obama isn’t expected to wait for another review group to hand in their own independent analysis of those NSA programs, either. Members of the congressionally-sanctioned Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board met with the president on Wednesday and said in a statement afterward that the president focused throughout the conversation on the metadata program and the secret court which approves it. But whereas that group is in the midst of authoring their own report on the NSA programs, its release has been delayed until at least late January, according to the AP, and the president is expected to announce his decision before then.

"He is still in the process of deliberating over the review group's report and hearing from others on the issues that were raised in the review group's report," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters during a briefing on Wednesday this week.

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