News / USA

    US Intelligence Reforms Debated Ahead of Obama Speech

    Michael Bowman
    U.S. intelligence reforms to be unveiled by President Barack Obama will be informed, at least in part, by a panel of legal scholars and spy experts that submitted recommendations to the White House for overhauling the National Security Agency. 

    Even before the president’s address, some proposals are already generating resistance on Capitol Hill.
     
    Friday, Obama is expected to deliver his most comprehensive response to U.S. spying disclosures made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
     
    Obama will seek to address mounting privacy concerns, and is likely to ask Congress to help decide thorny issues pitting civil liberties against national security.  Those issues were aired Tuesday, when members of the President’s Review Group on Intelligence discussed their recommendations with a Senate panel.  
     
    Here are a few of the recommendations made by an outside review panel for wide-ranging changes to the U.S. government's surveillance programs:

    1.    The government now stores bulk telephony metadata, understood as information that includes the telephone numbers that both originate and receive calls, time of call and date of call. We recommend that Congress should end such storage and transition to a system in which such metadata is held privately for the government to query when necessary for national security purposes.

    2.    Restrictions on the ability of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to compel third parties (such as telephone service providers) to disclose private information to the government.

    3.    Legislation should be enacted requiring information about surveillance programs to be made available to the Congress and to the American people to the greatest extent possible.

    4.    Significant steps should be taken to protect the privacy of non-US persons.

    5.    The president should create a new process, requiring highest-level approval of all sensitive intelligence requirements and the methods that the Intelligence Community will use to meet them.

    6.    We believe that the director should be a Senate-confirmed position, with civilians eligible to hold that position; the president should give serious consideration to making the next director of NSA a civilian.

    7.    We recommend that Congress should create the position of Public Interest Advocate to represent the interests of privacy and civil liberties before the FISC.
    Legal scholar Cass Sunstein said the review group's proposals will not undermine national security.

    “Much of our focus has been on maintaining the ability of the intelligence community to do what it needs to do to.  Not one of the 46 recommendations in our report would, in our view, compromise or jeopardize that ability in any way," said Sunstein.

    Last month, the review group issued a 300-page report urging private storage of bulk data collected by the NSA and enhanced privacy protections for U.S. and non-U.S. citizens.   It also recommended privacy advocates play a role in secret courts that authorize wiretaps, and improved oversight of NSA programs, particularly surveillance operations of foreign leaders.
     
    Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy says reforms are needed.

    “We are really having a debate about Americans’ fundamental relationship with their own government, " he said. "The government exists for Americans, not the other way around."

    ​But Republican Senator Chuck Grassley cautioned that intelligence reforms must not return federal agencies to a pre-September 11, 2001 mentality.

    “Some of the recommendations in the report appear to make it more difficult to investigate a terrorist than a common criminal," he said. "And some appear to rebuild the wall between our law enforcement and and national security communities that existed before September 11, 2001."

    Former U.S. National Intelligence Director John Negroponte described the challenge facing Obama

    “How do you make improvements in an issue such as privacy and the treatment of our friends and allies abroad without prejudicing somehow the effectiveness of our intelligence collection efforts?  It is a balance, and it is a balance that is being looked at now as it has been in the past and I am sure it will be again in the future," he said.

    In its report, the presidential review panel warned that striking a balance between liberty and security may not be possible or even desirable in all cases, saying, “some safeguards are not subject to balancing at all.”

    You May Like

    US Lawmakers Vow to Continue Immigrant Program for Afghan Interpreters

    Congressional inaction threatens funding for effort which began in 2008 and has allowed more than 20,000 interpreters, their family members to immigrate to US

    Brexit's Impact on Russia Stirs Concern

    Some analysts see Brexit aiding Putin's plans to destabilize European politics; others note that an economically unstable Europe is not in Moscow's interests

    US to Train Cambodian Government on Combating Cybercrime

    Concerns raised over drafting of law, as critics fear cybercrime regulations could be used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle political dissent

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora