Counter-Terrorism Expert Weighs in on NSA Spy Reforms

Richard Clarke discusses newly proposed modifications to controversial government agency.
3:00 | 01/17/14

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Transcript for Counter-Terrorism Expert Weighs in on NSA Spy Reforms
This is a special room. -- -- -- a new -- this ABC news digital special report after a months long review President Obama today presented his prescription. For how to fix those controversial NSA spying programs and ABC's Karen Travers has more on what the president said. And what it means going forward Karen. Good afternoon Dan the president said that critics were right to point out that this type of massive data collection could be resulting in intrusions of privacy but. He -- also important to preserve the capabilities that this program was designed to me. The sweeping and -- phone surveillance program sparked major controversy. And today President Obama announced it will not continue. As aids the government collection and storage of such -- data also -- A potential for abuse this so called meta data phone numbers of hundreds of millions of Americans and deet tails of who they called -- when will still be collected. But not stored by the government. If the government wants to access the massive database it would -- court approval. The White House aggressively argued that the surveillance program has been critical in preventing terror attacks. This political firestorm was sparked by the leak of classified information by former and -- contractor -- -- Last month the panel hand picked by President Obama offered -- 46 recommendations. Including shutting down the phone surveillance program because it presents a lurking danger of abuse. We think this so called -- -- data telephony program. Has not been the central has not contributed significantly. To do prevention. Of terrorist attacks in the United States or -- But already critics say the president's announcement will make it more difficult for the intelligence community to do its job. That's up pre 9/11 mindset and and that would make me uncomfortable. President Obama has passed the attorney general and intelligence officials to come up with a permanent plan by the end of march. For cool store -- this massive amount of data Dan. All right Karen think that a lot of discussion happened in those two months Karen Travers in Washington that the president's speech came after analysis from a special review panel created by the White House. We're joined now by a key member of that review review group counterterrorism expert ABC news consultant Richard Clarke Richard thanks for being with us today. The president seem to agree with some of the broad strokes of the panel's recommendations but also expressed some concern about having a phone company or third party company organization hold this data. What was your take -- from the president's speech today. -- present us Myanmar for colleagues to look at this program the so -- to fifteen telephony metadata program. Which is complicated way of saying recording all of the two and -- every time someone mentions a telephone call about the content. But who you called when you call them how long the call lasted. Well let's pull the programs we looked -- And we made two recommendations longer than that the government is not the appropriate place to store those records. And to that in order to look at those records you should get a court order. Would present accepted both of those recommendations he said he will transition. -- the storage of that information. Out of the government to some other place. The whether it's the phone companies -- a third party he hasn't decided that that's -- up to him anyway the congress just authorized it. The number two he said the beginning as of today to get that data the government will have to go to the court and make a showing. That there is -- -- reason for wanting to access that data. So are two key recommendations have been accepted. It'll take awhile to implement one of them the other one begins today. -- into gear that Richard -- in the -- find obviously saying that the meditative program didn't necessarily prevent a terror attack. The president though seemed to reply though implied in -- the program could have helped. To stop the 9/11 attacks. How does the president defending that that bet that used to that that justification. -- what we're saying is consistent. Was what the president -- Neither the administration nor of those of muscled his presidential review group. Believes that the program to date has stopped any terrorist attack. Other programs -- -- half it's just this one telephone metadata program that has not. But. That doesn't mean -- might not -- And the analogy that that I have been making. Is you may have a burglar alarm in your house it may have never go off when they burglar broke into your house. But you still want that burglar alarm. It is possible that this program might someday in the future. Be the one thing that gives us the lead that allows us to unravel -- future terrorist attack. We're not saying that it has no value were saying it could have done. And that it has not yet. Being used successfully. If there has been some mixed reaction to the president's speech today Kentucky senator Rand Paul. Not necessarily impressed by what he heard from the president facts saying this president Obama's announced solution to the NSA spying controversy. Is the same unconstitutional program. With the new configuration the American people should not expect the fox to guard. The -- house. Another response the Director of National Intelligence James clapper a staunch defender in fact of the programs. Said this I was gratified that he expressed his continued confidence in the men and women of the intelligence community. He recognized the IC workforce for performing extraordinarily. Difficult jobs. It's something our workforce needed to hear after what has been a challenging past several months where do you stand -- on the plan that was outlined today. Well we're not asking the fox to guard Aaron outset the whole point on a -- senator Paul was listening to the -- -- wrote those talking points before you heard it. If he had been listening to the speech what he would have heard this the president outlining a whole series. Of new safeguards so that we're not in the situation where the foxes guarding the henhouse the president propose that there be a court. -- -- necessary to access those databases that means going before -- federal judges and making a showing that it's necessary. The president propose that there be -- panel of outside advocates. Not government employees but specialists. And lawyers. Who will be in -- the courtroom and can argue the case against. The judge you're sharing those warrants if there's ground to do so. This is a whole new series of checks and balances and controls that are not present today. So I -- lower so -- Paul -- but the president is in the direction of adding. Transparency. Safeguards and further controls as the president in your opinion has he taken this issue head on. Given today's speech given today's recommendations that were made as it's -- a -- to congress. Well -- the law requires that the congress do some of these things if you look at the president's decision directive. Which he made -- classified and released to the public. Quite remarkable and intelligence directive. Who -- -- signals collection. The president signed it issued it publicly you can go online right now and -- -- at the White House stocked up web site. He did everything he can't under the law in that directive the law requires the congress to do some of the other pieces. Such as amending the -- law on meta data collection. I'm the president has said to the congress I think this data ought not to be stored by the government. I think this state -- only to be accessed by court order. Those -- the two big decisions. But congress is is by law going to have to do something now and I think they'll find -- a lot harder to deal with. Given the -- the way the congress is ribbon on these issues than the president did that. The size and the scope of the data that's being discussed is use almost unfathomable and and the president. Had made that point repeatedly in that speech early today about the -- sheer volume of this with all that data than. What is realistic as far as how the -- can go through it all. Well the president also talked to in the speech about big data analytics. Which is the software that we now -- of in the last five years or so there's been huge breakthroughs in computer science in big data analytics. He talked about -- and its ability to -- the needle in the haystack. In the past -- there really was no point to collecting hay stacks because you could not find the needle. Now with. The beauty of big data analytic software we're able to make correlations. And find the one key fact that we need an enormous amounts of -- As -- -- but the president -- speech and I think probably a lot of Americans and probably around the world -- who would feel this way. That there would be an expectation of intelligence gathering on foreign enemies that given the fact that the NSA has happened some phones. A foreign allies for example -- Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. The president didn't say that he would end that policy outright. Did -- say that they waited spy heads of state -- national security matters. Is that a realistic line as you can draw. Lou the fact of the matter is every country has an intelligence agency. And every country spies on every other country that it has the resources to do that wrong. Including allies. We have also -- allies of the United States -- spy on us all the time. Every time the president picks up his Blackberry there are also some countries trying to intercept his phone calls. This is the real world. But the president said was we're not going to spy. On the leadership of countries that we trust. And we're gonna have some criteria. About deciding who that is. In the review group report -- I helped -- we specified. Five criteria. For deciding what people. Should be targets what national leaders presidents and prime minister's. Should be targets of our collection. Doesn't make a lot of sense to collect on -- our allies because the president as he said can just pick up the phone and talk to them. But others are sometimes duplicitous. I know that's remarkable hard to believe that there might be world leaders who don't always tell us the truth. -- to realize they -- the the the actual the diplomatic efforts and and then sort of what we like to think and what the reality is on that. You know it's such a complex issue not only you know discussing an understanding sort of the metadata and the significance that a time stamp a phone call our phone number -- -- sort of the contents of those calls. How that might be of significance to intelligence gathering communities but also -- -- the other issues is prism that of course of the program that takes data from companies like Google. The presence of the he would work to make those requests for those privately held information pieces more transparent. -- but again I mean is that so they can be reasonably executed. Well -- -- companies like Google and Microsoft and apple last. The president to make it possible for -- to reveal the number of times they are asked every year to provide data. And the number of -- of their customers that they have to provide data on. And the president said he would do that. He doesn't see any reason why if they wanted reveal. The extent of the program. That they shouldn't be able to do that I think Microsoft apple and Google think. That if they reveal the number of times they've been asked to provide data. That people come down because it's a much smaller number. -- people have believed. The president had made mention in that speech -- today Edwards snow in the former NSA security contractor. Do not necessarily has been a catalyst for holding this kind of a news conference for even having this kind of discussion to begin with but. It does seem like more and more information is leaking about the NSA's abilities in -- recent learned about. How in fact the NSA can you can check -- on offline computers and text messages worldwide so. It almost begs the question how long -- -- -- for the president is out against speaking about modifying and new plans to even these programs right now. But I think most of what Snowden. Has to reveal his revealed. He has a million little more documents in the control about one by one for for the rest of our lives. Rest of his life. But they -- the fact of the matter is that the big -- revelation is already out. The United States has a spy agency surprise. The United States spies on people all around the world using its technological capability surprise. I think we've we've learned that now we're all come to understand that if we didn't already know it island I don't think -- trip trip by Snowden. Is going to have. Further significant ramifications because. Most of what -- what he has to say now. Is simply -- technically we go about doing it. And that's interesting -- to geeks and computer. Experts. But I think to the American public and to the public around the world the big point has already been made. The United States is masterful. That's flying using electronics. ABC's counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke Richard thanks so much -- -- as I always invaluable. Of course a complete recap right here on -- -- on them that their New York with this ABC news digital special report.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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