James Clapper: Americans Wouldn't Have Minded Super-Secret Surveillance if They Had Known About it All Along.

In an exclusive interview with Eli Lake of The Daily Beast, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper shows the great gulf between spooks and the rest of us. You know that super-secret program, sanctioned by section 215 of The Patriot Act and exposed by Edward Snowden, through which the National Security Agency (NSA) was collecting massive amounts of information on U.S. citizens? The one he forgot about when being questioned by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)? Well, Clapper says the problem with it was its secrecy:

“I probably shouldn’t say this, but I will. Had we been transparent about this from the outset right after 9/11—which is the genesis of the 215 program—and said both to the American people and to their elected representatives, we need to cover this gap, we need to make sure this never happens to us again, so here is what we are going to set up, here is how it’s going to work, and why we have to do it, and here are the safeguards… We wouldn’t have had the problem we had,” Clapper said.

That's pretty curious, given that folks involved with it denied the program's existence until their hand was forced by events they couldn't control. And we'll see just how committed to explanation the NSA (and the Obama administration) is going forward.

WikimediaWikimediaThere's also this:

“What did us in here, what worked against us was this shocking revelation,” he said, referring to the first disclosures from Snowden. If the program had been publicly introduced in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, most Americans would probably have supported it. “I don’t think it would be of any greater concern to most Americans than fingerprints. Well people kind of accept that because they know about it. But had we been transparent about it and say here’s one more thing we have to do as citizens for the common good, just like we have to go to airports two hours early and take our shoes off, all the other things we do for the common good, this is one more thing.”

I'm not sure about any of that, but it does raise the obvious question: Then why hasn't the NSA or the FBI or the CIA or the president (this one and past ones) ever been transparent about anything? This is classic hand-in-the-cookie-jar redemption-seeking, in which the malefactor swears to change his behavior without any indication he will.

As important, Clapper should get outside of whatever tinfoil-lined bunker he lives in on a regular basis. Americans actually are kinda-sorta concerned about fingerprint databases, genetic swabs, and ginormous databases held by the government. Not because we're nutjobs but because of the government's proven track record of abusing all sorts of information it holds.

Clapper addresses the misleading answer he gave to Wyden during a Senate hearing back in 2013. Wyden, a staunch civil libertarian and the only Democrat to join Sen. Rand Paul's anti-drone filibuster, asked Clapper,

 “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” At the time Clapper responded, “No sir.” Wyden then asked, “they do not?”  Clapper responded, “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”

Clapper subsequently said that "responded in what I thought was the most truthful or least untruthful manner, by saying, ‘No.’” He elaborates to the Beast by claiming that he wasn't even thinking about the 215 program at the time (it was still classified, though clearly Wyden knew about it) but about a different program. So, don't you see, Clapper wasn't lying. Really. Believe him, because he and the people he represents have always been so forthcoming. Except when they're not. Which is always. Unless they have to spill.

Does anyone still question why people don't trust the government?

Read the whole Beast piece.

And then read Eli Lake's Reason masterpiece, "The 9/14 Presidency: Barack Obama is operating with the war powers granted George W. Bush three days after the 9/11 attacks."

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    The treasonous Clapper should be hanged by his neck until dead.

  • WTF||

    Hanged, drawn and quartered, with his head on a spike in the mall as a warning to others.

    Bur he will probably be rewarded with a cushy lobbying position once he leaves the NSA.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Maybe the SVR will do us a solid and slip some polonium-210 into his drink.

  • Brett L||

    Why? Putin couldn't pay someone to fuck us harder.

  • DJF||

    He will probably get a Presidential Medal of Freedom. After all George Tenet got one for his outstanding work in not protecting us on 9/11 and his wonderful intelligence work in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  • The Last American Hero||

    This. At the bare minimum, W should have come out on 9/12 and waived around Tenet's resignation, declaring he would find someone competent to run the agency.

  • Doctor Whom||

    The NSA has always been spying on Eastasia.

  • sarcasmic||

    But, but, but it's a government of, by, and for the people!

    Of course we can trust the government!

    The government is us!

    It's the CORPORATIONS that you can't trust!

  • ||

    Speaking of corporations, when I worked in customer service at Blue Cross Blue Shield, I found the company didn't really put up any kind of stink if we paid claims we probably didn't need to pay based on the contract. We were actually given great latitude to adjust in the customer's favor. I can probably count on one hand the number of claims I didn't pay. But other CSRs were brutal. They took great joy in screwing people. "Too bad, so sad," was a common utterance. So when people blame corporations it should be noted that the bosses aren't so greedy all the time. Your fellow peons hate you, America. They're not nice people.

  • ||

    How come I'm unable to select text from the body of the article?

  • Swiss Servator, mehr Käse!||

    *CLASSIFIED*

    /NSA

  • ||

    Need to know.

  • Swiss Servator, mehr Käse!||

    *DENIED*

    /NSA, noting neoteny's name

  • sarcasmic||

    I can't select text off the entire site.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Me neither.

    What have the squirrels been doing lately? Are they getting bored of the regular shenanigans? I've been getting crazy formatting issues for about a week, and now the can't select thing.

  • Brett L||

    Select text also broken for me. Don't make me export the whole page just to copypasta, squirrels.

  • sarcasmic||

    Just discovered a FireFox add-on called RightToClick.

  • ||

    Smooth; thanks.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Reason just went full copyright it seems.

    You plebes didn't need to quote portions of the article in your comments.

  • SugarFree||

    Click and hold outside the boundaries of the text block and drag across.

  • SugarFree||

    See?

    “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” At the time Clapper responded, “No sir.” Wyden then asked, “they do not?” Clapper responded, “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”

    I can cut and paste his treasonous lie.

  • ||

    Consider this guy, the DEA people who refused to admit MJ is harmless, and our fearless messiah, the lies they tell, the sleazy tactics they engage in, the fallacious arguments they put forward. Look at all that, what they say and profess their intentions to be, and then look at what they do and the results we get.

    A great cameo would be the stark contrast of the menu at the recent state dinner for that frog dude and the menu the wookie concocted for school children, the one they refused to eat.

    Consider what a profound lack of character we have in leadership.

  • sarcasmic||

    Is that a lack of character from leadership, or just the typical conduct of people who view themselves not as leaders, but as rulers?

  • ||

    At first I thought you were nitpicking, but no, you are correct. They are not leaders. It is an important distinction.

  • wareagle||

    yup...leaders take the time to explain their idea or plan, they try to establish public buy-in for it, and they are open to feedback. Rulers, not so much.

  • wef||

    clapper is a good example of a classic, american political sociopath

  • Pelosi's Rabbit||

    The sad part is, I think he may have a point. After 9/11 they could have gotten away with anything. Now, 12 years later Americans might get upset about it and question its effectiveness, but at the time?

  • AlmightyJB||

    As fucked up as this us Clapper may be right. Americans are a bunch of pussies and sheep. Had this shit been packaged and sold by American Pravda all of whom would have been on board if kept in the loop this would have probably been accepted by most of the bootlickers in this country. Keeping it a secret fro the media does tend to move sentiment in a different direction.

  • AlmightyJB||

    On the other hand, this started under Bush so different rules applied ie the opposite rules.

  • ATXChappy||

    I agree. I think Clapper is probably right too. I actually believe had they gone to the public right after 9/11, the public would have supported creating the U.S. Department of Stasi. DHS will eventually become that. But, they could have had it right out of the gate. I guess team Bush just isn't as good as Team Obama. Rahm Emanuel would have never let that crisis go to waste.

  • creech||

    "most Americans would probably have supported it."
    Judging by the human reaction to lockdowns such as "Boston Strong" he is undoubtedly right. Maybe it is good that bureaucrats cover up such things, because then the righteous indignation, when it comes out, may serve libertarian ends far better than transparency does.

  • wareagle||

    in the wake of 9/11, Clapper makes a good point - Americans would have signed off on damn near anything if they thought it would carry the illusion of security. And therein lies the key institutional problem with govt - no one ever circles back to see if a past idea was any good, if programs need tweaking or just need to be stopped.

    Unfortunately for the rest of us, there is a huge "if you have nothing to hide...." cohort that is willing to try and prove Franklin's maxim wrong.

  • GroundTruth||

    Yes, timing is the thing. Had this all come up now, I don't think it would have passed. And had it come up about 50 years ago (during the height of the cold war), anyone supporting it would have been labeled a communist sympathizer and been voted out of office if they were lucky enough no to have been recalled.

  • Invisible Finger||

    It's all about marketing then.

  • ||

    OT: Hey, libertarians got in the news!

    Just kidding: Oliver Stone did.

  • Lord Peter Wimsey||

    What a great choice of guests for the International Students for Liberty Conference!

    What, were Noam Chomsky and Matt Damon not available?

    After his speech Stone produced a vial of Hugo Chavez' ball sweat and every libertarian there was allowed to smell it. Very few turned down this opportunity to "stick it to the man."

    You know, to show how anti-imperialist they are.

  • John Galt||

    Clapper doesn't just have a name that sounds like venereal disease he has the thought processes of someone who has suffered serious syphilitic brain damage.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    I find myself in the uncomfortable position of furtively wishing somebody would come along and provide a practical demonstration of the utter uselessness of our post 9/11 security theater.

  • Slammer||

    "we have to do for the common good"

    That phrase can lead down some very dark paths.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    I guess it's not just me who can't copy and paste. I thought my computer was broken.

    What a relief.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    "Why would I get rid of this rock? It keeps the tigers away! I haven't been eaten yet, have I?

  • ||

    I probably shouldn’t say this, but I will.

    It seems like he's building up quite a history of things he shouldn't have said but did.

  • ~Knarf Yenrab~||

    He's just trying to be open with the American public.

    I *really* hope that Snowden captured all of Clapper's private electronic correspondence and web history for the past five years and leaks it one of these days.

  • GroundTruth||

    "I don't think it would be any greater concern to most American's than fingerprints"

    F U, Mr. Clapper. No one has my fingerprints, and I don't plan of giving them to anyone either unless I'm being charged with a crime.

    (And our treatment of foreign visitors by fingerprinting them as they enter the country is a disgrace!)

  • John Galt||

    Their having your finger prints isn't anything a belt sander can't fix.

  • Roger the Shrubber||

    If the program had been publicly introduced in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, most Americans would probably have supported it.

    Because Bush was in office, liberals were in a huff because they thought that the Patriot Act gave spooks the right to discover their public library reading list. So if Clapper's proposed transparency did occur immediately post-911, there would have been some outrage. Now that Obama is in office and the extent of the fed's record collection have become known, those that objected before are eerily silent on the subject and portray those that object as terrorist supporters.

    Of course there are those that have remained consistent on the subject by continuously supporting the ever expanding security state.

  • Ama-Gi Anarchist||

    I'm not sure about any of that, but it does raise the obvious question: Then why hasn't the NSA or the FBI or the CIA or the president (this one and past ones) ever been transparent about anything? This is classic hand-in-the-cookie-jar redemption-seeking, in which the malefactor swears to change his behavior without any indication he will.

    Government dirtbags like Clapper think the principle of Better to beg forgiveness than ask for permission somehow applies to them when they gang-bang large cross-sections of the populace....

  • Aloysious||

    Clapper. Domestic enemy of the Constitution.

  • ~Knarf Yenrab~||

    Shit, Clapper's out of prison already? BHO pardon him or something?

  • Sevo||

    That lying POS doesn't speak for me.

  • Loki||

    “I probably shouldn’t say this, but I will. Had we been transparent about this from the outset right after 9/11—which is the genesis of the 215 program—and said both to the American people and to their elected representatives, we need to cover this gap, we need to make sure this never happens to us again, so here is what we are going to set up, here is how it’s going to work, and why we have to do it, and here are the safeguards… We wouldn’t have had the problem we had,” Clapper said.

    Unfortunately, he might have a point here, but not in the way he think he does.

    In the aftermath of 9/11 they may have been able to spin what they wanted to do in such a way as to manipulate people's fears of terrorism to get the majority of people to willingly give up their privacy. That and the knee jerk reaction of our elected representatives to DO SOMETHING!!11!!! might have been enough. In fact it was enough to get them to pass the enabling PATRIOT Act. So, like I said, he may be correct, but not because the program really is super important and vital to national security, and if the people were just informed upfront they would understand that, but because they could have cynically played on people's fears to get them to go along with it.

  • Pulseguy||

    When your wife asked you if you were having an affair and you said 'no', were you lying?

    No, not really, because when she asked me I was thinking more about my personal assistant, with whom I wasn't having an affair, and not my secretary whom I was having an affair with. So, you can see I wasn't lying.

  • AmericanPrivacy||

    "The National Security Agency's capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A. could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back."—Senator Frank Church, 1975

    www.americansrighttoprivacy.com

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement