Just before President Obama announces the future of domestic surveillance, the spying agency and its allies concede a need for greater transparency but maintain that limiting the scope of their work would put the country at greater risk of terrorist attacks.

The Guardian reports:

In a lengthy interview that aired on Friday on National Public Radio (NPR), the NSA’s top civilian official, the outgoing deputy director John C Inglis, said that the agency would cautiously welcome a public advocate to argue for privacy interests before the secret court which oversees surveillance. Such a measure is being promoted by some of the agency’s strongest legislative critics.

Inglis also suggested that the so-called Fisa court have “somebody who would assist them with matters of interpreting technology”, which also has the potential to recast the court’s relationship with the NSA.

Currently, the judges on the panel rely entirely on the NSA to explain how the agency’s complex technological systems work, an institutional disadvantage that judges have highlighted in secret rulings bemoaning “systemic” misrepresentations by the powerful surveillance agency. 

Inglis conceded in his NPR interview that the NSA’s bulk collection program may have foiled just one terrorist attack at most. Nonetheless, he called the strategy an “insurance program” that is “a necessary component to cover a seam [against terrorism] that I can’t otherwise cover.”

President Obama is expected to unveil his surveillance proposals Jan. 17.

The Guardian continued:

Expectations are high that Obama will follow the recommendations of a review group he set up, which suggested that the responsibility for the bulk domestic call records database should be transferred from the NSA to a third party, such as the phone companies. But Inglis said that would not necessarily mean the end of the program, provided any dataset held outside of NSA had “sufficient depth” and “sufficient breadth” over “the whole haystack” of call records going back for years, and provided “sufficient agility” to the NSA to search it.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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