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.
There'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?
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."