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White House says intelligence chief James Clapper won't lead NSA review

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James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, will not be involved in selecting or leading members of a group reviewing the NSA's surveillance methods. On August 12th, President Barack Obama issued a memo telling Clapper to "establish a review group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies," responsible for determining whether the US surveillance system was both advancing American interests and behaving in a way that would "maintain the public trust." Now, though, a White House spokesperson tells both us and The Hill that Clapper won't be a part of the process.

"Director Clapper will not be a part of the group, and is not leading or directing the group's efforts," says Caitlin Hayden. "The White House is selecting the members of the review group, consulting appropriately with the Intelligence Community." While the memo says the review group will file reports through the director of national intelligence, Hayden tells The Verge that "the panel will not report to the DNI." A group of outside experts will be selected to work under the White House's direction, but they'll need to have the right security clearance to do so, something which Hayden says explains Clapper's involvement.

"The DNI's role is one of facilitation."

"The DNI's role is one of facilitation, and the group is not under the direction of or led by the DNI," she says. "The members require security clearances and access to classified information so they need to be administratively connected to the government, and the DNI's office is the right place to provide that. The review process and findings will be the group's." Hayden did not say whether the reports would still be filed through Clapper: "The group hasn't met yet, so it's premature to say how their report would be handled in the end." It's also not absolutely clear that Clapper won't have an advisory role in the process, though the White House has significantly downplayed the possibility.

Clapper's integrity was called into question after he admittedly gave false information about the NSA's surveillance to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). Though Clapper claimed he had given the "least untruthful" answer possible, he's come to symbolize the wall between the American public and the surveillance apparatus that operates in its name. Denying his involvement could go a long ways towards building faith in the review group's conclusions — though the evasive wording and technical truths we've seen since the first NSA documents were leaked means at least some suspicion is always warranted.