WASHINGTON — A presidential advisory committee charged with examining the operations of the National Security Agency has concluded that a program to collect data on every phone call made in the United States should continue, although under broad new restraints that would be designed to increase privacy protections, according to officials with knowledge of the report’s contents.
The committee’s report, the officials said, also argues in favor of codifying and publicly announcing the steps the United States will take to protect the privacy of foreign citizens whose telephone records, Internet communications, or movements are collected by the NSA. But it is unclear how far that effort would go, and intelligence officials have argued strenuously that they should be under few restrictions when tapping the communications of non-Americans abroad, who do not have constitutional protections under the Fourth Amendment.
The advisory group is also expected to recommend that senior White House officials, including the president, directly review the list of foreign leaders whose communications are routinely monitored by the NSA. President Obama has apologized to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany for the NSA’s monitoring of her calls over the past decade, promising that the actions had been halted and would not resume. But he refused to make the same promise to the leaders of Mexico and Brazil.
Administration officials say the White House has already taken over supervision of that program.
“We’re not leaving it to Jim Clapper anymore,” said one official, referring to the director of national intelligence, who appears to have been the highest official to regularly review the programs.
But resistance from the intelligence agencies is likely. In an interview two months ago, General Keith B. Alexander, the soon-to-retire director of the NSA and the commander of the military’s Cyber Command, suggested that a major cutback in US spying on foreign nationals would be naive.
And officials who have examined the NSA’s programs say they have been surprised at how infrequently the agency has been challenged to weigh the intelligence benefits of its foreign collection operations against the damage that could be done if the programs were exposed.
One of the expected recommendations is that the White House conduct a regular review of those collection activities, the way covert action by the CIA is reviewed annually.
Another likely recommendation, officials say, is the creation of an organization of legal advocates who, like public defenders, would argue against lawyers for the NSA and other government organizations in front of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the nation’s secret court that oversees the collection of telephone and Internet “metadata” and wiretapping aimed at terrorism and espionage suspects. Obama has already hinted that he objects to the absence of any adversarial procedures in front of the court’s judges.