The White House is moving forward with more than two thirds of the surveillance reforms recommended by a review group formed by President Barack Obama, a member of the group said Wednesday.
Peter Swire, a member of the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, said in a conference call Wednesday that the Obama administration "informed us that they've taken about 70 percent of our recommendations either in letter or in spirit."
The five-man panel of legal and intelligence experts presented Obama with a report in December that recommended 46 reforms to the way the U.S. intelligence community performs surveillance and collects data.
Obama convened the panel in August following revelations that the National Security Agency collected phone metadata on millions of Americans. The disclosure by leaker Edward Snowden led to a national debate on the appropriate size and scope of the NSA’s spy activities, especially concerning American citizens.
Swire said the group presented their findings to Obama in a one-hour briefing in the White House situation room, and that the President was mostly receptive.
Some of their recommendations are already in progress. The Department of Justice announced Monday that it would allow tech companies such as Verizon and Google to release more information on how often they are required to hand over customer information to the government.
But other recommendations have hit stiff resistance, such as one that would put a public advocate on the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. FISC judges recently sent a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) opposing the move.
The intelligence community has made no secret of its disdain for Snowden and opposition to hamstringing its surveillance powers.
Testifying before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Wednesday, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said the Snowden’s disclosure "has caused grave damage to our national security."
"The greatest cost that is unknown today, but that we will likely face, is human lives on tomorrow’s battlefields," Flynn said.
A member of the review group said last Friday the White House saw the group’s findings "as a liberal report" after extensive meetings with intelligence community officials.
Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor, said Obama spent a month meeting "with many of the same people we had met with at great length, members of the intelligence community, members of the intelligence committees from Congress largely on one side of the picture."
"And instead of our report being truly understood as a middle ground, based upon taking into account all of those perspectives on both sides of the spectrum, I think the White House got moved by thinking of our report as a liberal report," Stone continued.
Swire, who previously worked in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, said the push-back from agencies was just a normal part of the complicated "clearance" process for new policies.
"In the clearance process, agencies had criticisms that were valid in my view," Swire said. "Agencies also tend to err on the side of the status quo, which is why I think the president brought us in."
One issue the review board didn’t touch was the constitutionality of the NSA’s surveillance program. Swire said that question was outside the scope of their work.
Swire said the issue had brought together civil libertarians on both the left and right, noting that the Republican National Committee voted recently to adopt a resolution condemning the NSA.