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7 Jan, 2014 21:01

Obama inviting top NSA critics to private meeting at White House

Obama inviting top NSA critics to private meeting at White House

United States President Barack Obama will reportedly hold a closed-door meeting with select officials on Thursday this week to discuss in private the future of the controversial surveillance operations waged by the National Security Agency.

The National Journal reported on Tuesday that the president has asked the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House of Representatives Judiciary and Intelligence committees to attend the secret meeting, as well as senior White House staffers and other “key players” in Congress who have been critical of the NSA’s operations, including Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colorado), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Rep Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin).

“It remains unclear precisely what Obama wants to discuss,” the Journal’s Dustin Volz reported on Tuesday, “but aides expect him to offer some reforms in an attempt to garner support from the lawmakers.”

Thursday’s meeting will come seven months-to-the-day after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed himself to be the man responsible for taking a trove of classified documents detailing those surveillance operations and leaking them to members of the media. Reports penned by journalists at some of the biggest news agencies in the world have since used those documents to expose previously unpublished and questionably legal spy tactics waged by the NSA, the likes of which have prompted calls for widespread reform from the likes of Udall, Wyden, Sensenbrenner and other critics both in and out of Congress.

Last month, a five-person review group assembled by Pres. Obama presented the White House with a report recommending that the NSA consider dozens of recommendations meant to reform some of the operations exposed through Mr. Snowden’s leaks. After that report was completed but before the president went on vacation in late December, Obama said he’d make a "pretty definitive statement about all of this in January." The president is now expected to weigh in on those recommendations publically during the annual State of the Union address scheduled for January 28 in Washington, but meanwhile the Journal is reporting that the White House may be using this week’s meeting to discuss in private the potential details about NSA reform.

Government operations exposed through those leaks have linked the NSA to gathering intelligence on Americans and conducting surveillance on the leaders of allied nations. Attempts to rein in those programs in the months since the leaks started in June have been ongoing, albeit largely unsuccessful. Upon the recent publishing of the review group’s recommendations, however, the president could find himself press to adopt at least some of the suggestions made by his hand-picked panel.

“Clearly, this report speaks to what I’ve heard not just from people here but around the world: that they know that liberty and security are not mutually exclusive,” Sen. Wyden told the UK’s Guardian newspaper last month. "There are substantial, meaningful reforms in this.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee has previously scheduled a hearing for next Tuesday, January 14, in which its members will discuss the NSA review group’s findings with the panelists responsible for the report.