After insisting that the government’s unprecedented capability to monitor communications must be assessed by an independent panel with regards to maintaining the trust of Americans, President Barack Obama has announced the formation of a new review group.
A memo issued Monday by the White House said James Clapper, the United States director of national intelligence, will lead a newly formed review group tasked to determine if the US “employs its technical collection capabilities in a manner that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust.”
The decision to formalize the board and appoint Mr. Clapper in charge comes three days after Pres. Obama called for its creation during a rare press conference and two months after National Security Agency documents were leaked to the media disclosing the NSA’s deployment of vast surveillance operations to collect data on the everyday communications of American citizens.
That revelation, attributed to former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, initiated widespread discussion in America and abroad about balancing national security with personal privacy.
But at the same time, Mr. Snowden’s disclosures also contradicted a statement made earlier this year by Clapper, which in turn prompted the director of national intelligence to issue a formal apology to high-ranking lawmaker Sen. Dianne Feinstein for lying to Congress.
During a March 2013 hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) asked DNI Clapper, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper responded in the negative, but was forced to correct himself when Mr. Snowden’s revelations three months later proved otherwise. The Guardian newspaper published a leaked NSA document on June 5 suggesting that millions of Americans fall subject to government surveillance on a daily basis through a program that regularly collects call records, or “telephony metadata,” for entire populations. On June 21, DNI Clapper wrote Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to apologize for his “clearly erroneous” statement on Capitol Hill.
As a result of that gaffe, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan) called for Clapper’s resignation. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) said the director broke the law, and Sen. Wyden said in a statement, “This job cannot be done responsibly if senators aren’t getting straight answers to direct questions.”