Vindication For Snowden? Obama-Created Task Force Calls For Major Changes to NSA Spy Programs

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 18 2013 4:21 PM

Slatest PM: Obama-Created Task Force Calls For Limits to NSA Spy Programs

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A woman wearing oversized sunglasses lettered with the words 'stop spying' listens to speakers during the Stop Watching Us Rally protesting surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency, on October 26, 2013

Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images

Panel Calls For Major NSA Changes: New York Times: "A panel of presidential advisers who reviewed the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices urged President Obama on Wednesday to end the government’s systematic collection of logs of all Americans’ phone calls, and to keep those in private hands, 'for queries and data mining' only by court order. In a more than 300-page report made public by the White House, the group of five intelligence and legal experts also strongly recommended that any operation to spy on foreign leaders would have to pass a rigorous test that weighs the potential economic or diplomatic costs if the operation becomes public. The decision to monitor those communications, it said, should be made by the president and his advisers, not the intelligence agencies. It also recommends new limits on surveillance of ordinary non-Americans. It argues for applying to foreign targets of intelligence the protections accorded to Americans under the Privacy Act of 1974, meaning the government could release very little information about the." Exec Summary here; Full Report here.

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The Money Quote: "What we’re saying is just because we can doesn’t mean we should," said Richard Clarke, one of the advisers behind the report, which made a total of 46 different recommendations to the White House.

Focus on Foreigners: Politico: "Some of the most sweeping reforms proposed by the panel focus not on U.S. citizens, but on foreigners, some of whom have been an uproar over former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations about widespread U.S. monitoring of communications overseas. The committee would push the U.S. intelligence system to treat foreigners more like Americans, by safeguarding their information in ways now used for U.S. citizen-related data and by limiting the most intrusive surveillance strictly to issues of national security. The panel’s report would effectively end the use of much signals intelligence by the U.S. in connection with non-terrorism criminal investigations, like probes of theft of trade secrets, intellectual property piracy and organized crime."

Let's Not Get Too Excited: Associated Press: "The panel did not recommend that the NSA stop seizing phone and Internet data entirely, and it was unclear whether the changes would limit the scope of the collections. President Barack Obama ordered the review board to submit recommendations following disclosures earlier this year about the vast nature of the government's surveillance programs, but he is under no obligation to accept their proposals. The White House authorized the release of the review group's report Wednesday, weeks ahead of schedule."

It's Wednesday, December 18th, welcome to the Slatest PM. Follow your afternoon host on Twitter at @JoshVoorhees, and the whole team at @Slatest.

The Taper: Wall Street Journal: "The Federal Reserve said it would reduce its signature bond-buying program to $75 billion a month, taking a step away from a policy meant to recharge economic growth, and said that it will continue in 'further measured steps at future meetings' if the economy stays on course. After months of intense discussion at the Fed and in financial markets, the central bank's policy-making committee announced Wednesday that in January it would trim its purchases of long-term Treasury bonds to $40 billion per month, a reduction of $5 billion, and cut its purchases of mortgage-backed securities to $35 billion per month, a reduction of $5 billion."

An End to Sports Blackouts? Washington Post: "The Federal Communications Commission is proposing to eliminate sports blackouts, according to a just-released document. Televised sporting events can be blacked out in a given market if the event is not available on a local station. When the rule was written, the idea was that having the game on TV could hurt ticket sales. In its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC says the law might be outdated -- especially given the financial success of the major sports leagues -- and asks if it has the authority to change the rules without Congress's approval."

Pretty Much a Done (Budget) Deal: Reuters: "The U.S. Senate was ready on Wednesday to pass a two-year budget deal aimed at avoiding a government shutdown in January despite objections by senators from both parties to proposed pension cuts for military retirees. Final passage was all but assured on Tuesday when the Senate voted 67-33 to advance the measure to a final, simple majority vote late Wednesday afternoon in the Democratic-controlled chamber. The deal, passed by the House last week, restores overall fiscal 2014 spending levels for so-called "discretionary" programs to $1.012 trillion, trimming the across-the-board budget cuts that were set to begin next month by about $63 billion over two years."

Fake CIA Spy Heading to Prison: NBC News: "The EPA’s highest-paid employee and a leading expert on climate change was sentenced to 32 months in federal prison Wednesday for lying to his bosses and saying he was a CIA spy working in Pakistan so he could avoid doing his real job. John C. Beale’s crimes were 'inexplicable' and 'unbelievably egregious,' said Judge Ellen Huvelle in imposing the sentence in a Washington. D.C. federal court. Beale has also agreed to pay $1.3 million in restitution and forfeiture to the government. Beale said he was ashamed of his lies about working for the CIA, a ruse that, according to court records, began in 2000 and continued until early this year."

BP Engineer Convicted: Associated Press: "The first criminal trial produced by the Justice Department's sweeping probe of BP's massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico ended Wednesday with a jury convicting a drilling engineer of trying to obstruct investigators by deleting text messages from his cellular phone. Kurt Mix, a former BP employee who worked on the company's efforts to stop the nation's worst offshore oil spill, embraced stunned relatives and friends after jurors convicted him of an obstruction-of-justice charge punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The jury acquitted Mix of a second count of the same charge."

That's all for today. See you back here tomorrow. Until then, tell your friends to subscribe or simply forward the newsletter on and let them make up their own minds.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.