From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel. A team of five surveillance experts has spent the last four months reviewing U.S. spying policies, at President Obama's request. Their job is to make recommendations on how best to balance security needs against privacy concerns.

Earlier today, that team gave a preliminary report to senior aides at the White House. President Obama says these recommendations will help him chart a new path for U.S. spying policy.NPR's Ari Shapiro reports on the president's evolving views on eavesdropping.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: It's been five months since former defense contractor Edward Snowden started leaking documents about secret U.S. surveillance policies. The first big story revealed that the NSA was collecting data from Verizon customers here in the U.S. Back then, in June, President Obama's reaction amounted to move along, there's nothing to see here.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The last thing they'd be doing is taking programs like this to listen to somebody's phone calls.

SHAPIRO: Obama insisted that cyberspies were not abusing their authority. They were simply doing everything in their power to stop the next terrorist attack. He insisted at every turn that spying programs have oversight and checks from judges, lawmakers, and officials within the executive branch. Here he was in Senegal, almost a month after the first revelations came out.


OBAMA: You know, we are trying to declassify as much as possible so that the American people and our international partners feel confidence about how we operate in this regard.

SHAPIRO: The implication was: If we could declassify all of this, you would realize that we're not doing anything wrong. But some people with access to the classified information were not reassured - like Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who sits on the Intelligence Committee.


SEN. RON WYDEN: From my vantage point, reading those documents that are classified, these violations are more serious than have been stated by the intelligence community and in my view, are very troubling.

SHAPIRO: That was in July. New revelations kept coming - almost weekly - and often, one had nothing to do with another. That left the White House struggling to find the right response. It didn't help that some revelations even took senior White House aides by surprise.

In late summer, Obama's talking points started to change. This was an interview with CNN.


OBAMA: I think there are legitimate concerns that people have, that the technology's moving so quick that, you know, at some point, does the technology outpace the laws that are in place, and the protections that are in place? And do some of these systems end up being like a loaded gun out there that somebody, at some future point, could abuse?

SHAPIRO: The defensiveness was giving way to self-examination. In August, Obama asked a panel to review all of America's spying programs, and make recommendations about what should change. As summer turned to fall, the drip of secrets continued.

Foreign allies were in the crosshairs next, as it came out that the U.S. had been eavesdropping on world leaders in Latin America and Europe. In September, Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, gave a blistering attack at the U.N. General Assembly, speaking here through an interpreter.


PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF: (Through interpreter) Meddling in such a manner in the life and affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and, as such, it is an affrontment to the principles that should otherwise govern relations among countries, especially among friendly nations.

SHAPIRO: And in October, German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded to reports that the U.S. had bugged her personal cellphone.


CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Foreign language spoken)

SHAPIRO: I've made it clear, in discussions with America's president in regards to the NSA, that friends spying on each other is not acceptable, she said. By that point, the transformation of White House talking points was complete; from nothing is wrong, to something will change.

Here was President Obama describing the spy agencies, in an interview with Fusion TV.


OBAMA: What we've seen over the last several years is, their capacities continue to develop and expand. And that's why I'm initiating, now, a review to make sure that what they're able to do doesn't necessarily mean what they should be doing.

SHAPIRO: Looking back on the last five months, one senior White House official said this week: We were answering the question in front of us without knowing what the full landscape was. If we'd known the full range from the beginning, we might have said something different.

But the story is still not over. Edward Snowden stole thousands of secret documents that have not yet come out. And after almost half a year on the defensive, a White House aide grimly said this week, we don't know what the next disclosure's going to be.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House.

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