A presidential task force plans to call for sweeping changes to the way the NSA does business, including steps to make it more transparent and to increase White House oversight, according to reports today in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. The panel of five intelligence and legal experts is still finalizing its report, but has already briefed some administration officials on it. The task force determined that data on billions of phone records should still be gathered, but will likely call for:
- A legal team that would argue against the NSA's lawyers before the FISA court, sort of like public defenders
- Keeping phone records in the hands of phone companies or a third party, rather than in NSA databases, and imposing more strict standards on when and how the NSA could search them
- Publicly announcing safeguards to protect the privacy of foreign citizens the NSA is monitoring
- Direct presidential review of which foreign leaders are being spied on
- Regular White House reviews of the agency's surveillance activities, much like those the president already conducts each year on the CIA's work
- Splitting the NSA off from the military's Cyber Command, and putting a civilian leader at the helm.
The recommendations will be considered alongside a separate review from security officials. "There's going to be a lot of pushback to some of their ideas," says one source. In particular, expect objections from intelligence officials. On Capitol Hill Wednesday, NSA Director Keith Alexander argued that the programs already had plenty of oversight. "We can't go back to a pre-9/11 moment," he said, according to the Washington Post. But the White House says it's already moving to tighten the agency's leash, particularly when it comes to spying on foreign leaders."We're not leaving it to Jim Clapper anymore." (Read more National Security Agency stories.)