President Barack Obama is still grappling with key decisions on the future of the National Security Agency’s phone collection program and the makeup of the secret court that approved the surveillance, congressional lawmakers said Thursday, following a 90-minute meeting at the White House.
Obama is expected to back tighter restrictions on foreign leader spying and also is considering a presidential commission’s recommendation to strip the NSA of its ability to store telephone records from millions of Americans. The president could announce his final decisions as early as next week.
“The president and his administration are wrestling with the issues,” Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and privacy advocate, said after the meeting. “It’s fair to say that the next few weeks are going to be crunch time in terms of judgments being made in both the administration and the Congress.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said the meeting focused in particular on the telephone data program and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. He said that while Obama didn’t appear to have made a decision on either issue yet, he expects him to do so soon.
The president met this week with his top intelligence advisers, many of whom oppose changes to the NSA programs, and a review group appointed by Congress that is working on a report focused on the surveillance systems. Privacy advocates were meeting with senior White House staff Thursday afternoon, and technology companies have been invited to a meeting on Friday.
The president’s decisions will test how far he is willing to go in scaling back the NSA’s broad surveillance powers. A presidential commission handed him more than 40 recommendations, many of which were more sweeping than expected. However, Obama is not obligated to accept any of the panel’s proposals.
On Thursday, the senior lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee said a classified Pentagon report showed that Snowden stole approximately 1.7 million intelligence files. Most of those documents concern current military operations and could potentially jeopardize U.S. troops overseas, according to Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D-Md.).
Snowden faces espionage charges in the U.S. but has been granted temporary asylum in Russia.