White House insists James Clapper will not lead NSA surveillance review

By on August 14, 2013
US Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the current and future worldwide threats to the national security of the United States

The White House has moved to dampen controversy over the role of the director of national intelligence James Clapper in a panel reviewing NSA surveillance, insisting that he would neither lead it nor choose the members.

Statements by Barack Obama and Clapper on Monday night were widely interpreted as the director of national intelligence being placed in charge of the inquiry, which the president had announced on Friday would be “independent”.

The apparent involvement of Clapper, who has admitted lying to Congress over NSA surveillance of US citizens, provoked a backlash, with critics accusing the president of putting a fox in charge of the hen house.

But the White House national security council insisted on Tuesday that Clapper’s role would be more limited.

“The panel members are being selected by the White House, in consultation with the intelligence community,” national security council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

The DNI had to be involved for administrative reasons, because the panel would need security clearance and access to classified material, she added.

After the White House and the Pentagon released their statements saying Clapper had been asked by Obama to “establish” the panel and report its findings, media outlets reported this to mean Clapper heading the panel and choosing the members.

Republican congressman Justin Amash, who led a revolt that narrowly failed in its effort to cut NSA funding, tweeted: “Pres Obama believes man who lied to public in congressional hearing about NSA should lead NSA review process meant to build public trust”.

Clapper apologized last month for misleading a Senate hearing by denying that the NSA collects information about millions of Americans.

In response to leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Obama announced at a press conference on Friday that an independent panel of outsiders would be set up to investigate concerns about the scale of NSA surveillance.

The president appeared to backtrack on Monday evening when he said he was directing Clapper “to establish a review group on intelligence and communications technologies” that would brief and later report to the president through Clapper by December.

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