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NSA, Cyber Command to continue close relationship

FORT MEADE, Md., Dec. 13 (UPI) -- The U.S. National Security Agency will maintain a close relationship with the Pentagon's Cyber Command, the White House said Friday.

Current arrangements allow the NSA director to lead the military command but the Obama administration had been considering splitting the two positions when NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander retires in the spring, the Wall Street Journal reported.

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However, the administration concluded a single position "is the most effective approach to accomplishing both agencies' missions," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

The position will continue to be held by a military officer who will head both the NSA and the Cyber Command as a four-star general, a senior administration official said.

Meanwhile, a presidential panel called for the U.S. National Security Agency to be run by civilians instead of the military, people familiar with the panel's report said.

The five-person advisory group of intelligence and legal experts says in a still-being revised report the spy agency's controversial program to collect data on nearly every phone call made in the United States should continue, the officials told the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.

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But it recommends new limits on how the electronic information is gathered and held, they said.

For instance, it recommends the so-called metadata the NSA collects be held instead by a phone company or a third-party organization, people familiar with the recommendations told the Journal.

The committee's report, to be given to Obama Sunday, also argues in favor of codifying and publicly announcing the steps Washington will take to protect the privacy of foreign citizens whose phone records, online communications or movements are collected by the NSA, the officials told the Times.

Obama established the task force, known as the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology, in August in response to disclosures from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

"I'm tasking this independent group to step back and review our capabilities, particularly our surveillance technologies," Obama told a news conference Aug. 9.

"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," he said.

The group would provide a final report by the end of the year "so that we can move forward with a better understanding of how these programs impact our security, our privacy and our foreign policy," Obama said.

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The report says it believes NSA surveillance programs follow the law although it needs to make dozens of changes to structure, transparency and internal security, the Journal said.

The unclassified report's recommendations aren't binding.

The White House hasn't decided when it will make it public, the Journal said.

Once it is delivered, it is expected to feed into another review being conducted by national security officials across the Obama administration, the Times said.

NSA spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden declined to discuss any panel recommendations.

"Our review is looking across the board at our intelligence gathering to ensure that as we gather intelligence, we are properly accounting for both the security of our citizens and our allies, and the privacy concerns shared by Americans and citizens around the world," she told the Times.

"We need to ensure that our intelligence resources are most effectively supporting our foreign policy and national security objectives -- that we are more effectively weighing the risks and rewards of our activities," she said.

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