Clapper won't lead NSA review, White House says

Aug. 14, 2013 at 2:30 AM   |   0 comments

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper will not lead a National Security Agency review President Obama vowed would be autonomous, a spokeswoman said.

An Obama memorandum Monday directing Clapper, the nation's top intelligence figure, to "establish" the review group and report its findings to the president did not mean Clapper would head the panel or be involved with the panel members' selection, White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Tuesday.

"The panel members are being selected by the White House, in consultation with the intelligence community," she said in a statement.

"The panel will not report to [Clapper]," she said.

Clapper's involvement will be limited to approving security clearance because group members will have access to classified material, she said.

Clapper's office "is the right place to provide that," Hayden said. "The review process and findings will be the group's."

Obama promised in a news conference Friday the inquiry into U.S. electronic domestic and international surveillance would be independent.

"I am tasking this independent group to step back and review our capabilities, particularly our surveillance technologies," he said. "And they'll 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, ask how surveillance impacts our foreign policy -- particularly in an age when more and more information is becoming public."

Obama's public memo Monday, which can be found at tinyurl.com/UPI-Obama-memo, also said the review group would report its interim findings to Obama through Clapper within 60 days of its establishment and provide a final report and recommendations to Obama through Clapper no later than Dec. 15.

Clapper issued his own statement Monday echoing parts of Obama's memo. In his statement, found at tinyurl.com/UPI-Clapper-statement, he called the group "the Director of National Intelligence Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies."

At least one Republican lawmaker understood the Obama and Clapper statements to mean Clapper would play a lead role.

"Pres Obama believes man who lied to public in congressional hearing about #NSA should lead NSA review process meant to build public trust," Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., posted on Twitter Monday.

Hayden said this was a misunderstanding. She also denied the White House was shifting ground on the NSA review panel.

"I can confirm we are not backtracking on what the president announced," she said.

The panel members will be appointed soon, she added.

Clapper acknowledged in June he lied to the Senate in a March 12 public hearing about domestic spying.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., had asked him in the March hearing if the NSA collects "any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans."

Clapper answered, "No sir," then added, "Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not wittingly."

The New York Times reported Wyden knew immediately Clapper lied, because Wyden is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which receives secret briefings from top intelligence officials, including Clapper.

Clapper told NBC News June 9 he felt he couldn't have answered Wyden's question with a yes or no. "So I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful, manner, by saying no," he said.

Clapper formally apologized to the Senate Intelligence Committee in a June 21 letter.

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