WASHINGTON — Stung by public unease about new details of spying by the National Security Agency, President Obama selected a panel of advisers he described as independent experts to scrutinize the NSA’s surveillance programs to be sure they weren’t violating civil liberties and to restore Americans’ trust.
But with just weeks remaining before its first deadline to report back to the White House, the review panel has effectively been operating as an arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA and all other US spy efforts.
The panel’s advisers work in offices on loan from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Interview requests and press statements from the review panel are carefully coordinated through the Director of National Intelligence’s press office.
James Clapper, the intelligence director, exempted the panel from US rules that require federal committees to conduct their business and their meetings in ways the public can observe. Its final report, when it’s issued, will be submitted for White House approval before the public can read it.
Even the panel’s official name suggests it is run by Clapper’s office: ‘‘Director of National Intelligence Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies.’’
Its meetings in recent weeks with technology industry and privacy groups have been closed to the public even though no classified information was discussed, according to participants.
Attendees said they raised concerns about the NSA’s spying programs.
During one session, two participants said, panel members said the group might hold a separate classified meeting soon with technology executives to discuss details of secret surveillance programs.
‘‘No one can look at this group and say it’s completely independent,’’ said one attendee, Sascha Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Institute and vice president at the New America Foundation. Meinrath said the closed meetings ‘‘leave the public out of the loop.’’
Obama described the panel in an Aug. 9 speech as an ‘‘independent group’’ and said its members would ‘‘consider how we can maintain the trust of the people, how we can make sure that there absolutely is no abuse in terms of how these surveillance technologies are used.’’
The formal White House memorandum days later — effectively the legal charter for the group — does not specify anything about its role being independent of the Obama administration.