Clapper is best known around here for the time he lied to a Senate committee by denying that the feds were engaged in the mass collection of American citizens' phone and internet records. His lie was part of what prompted Edward Snowden to steal and release loads of classified documents revealing the truth.
Clapper has since insisted that he didn't actually lie but rather just totally forgot about this massive secret data collection program. He's been spinning that response for a couple years now. He brought it up again just recently on The View.
Clapper is making the rounds again to promote a new book, Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence. Also providing publicity is his open feud with President Donald Trump, who is now taking his attacks on the "deep state" to the point where he's accusing the FBI of installing a "spy" in his campaign.
While it seems obvious that the FBI was monitoring Trump's campaign to determine the extent of connections with Russian interests, the "spy" claim seems absurdly overheated (for now, anyway). And so we've reached a point where Americans are "taking sides" between two men who have reputations for not exactly being honest and for treating Americans like stupid rubes.
In an interview this week with Judy Woodruff on PBS, Clapper makes it very clear how big a bunch of rubes he thinks Americans are. He believes not only that Russian interests attempted to influence the election—obviously true—but that they tipped the outcome.
This unprovable claim is based on the idea that Americans' votes are easily manipulated. Clapper acknowledges that his former agency has not made such a formal determination, but
as a private citizen, it's what I would call my informed opinion that, given the massive effort the Russians made, and the number of citizens that they touched, and the variety and the multidimensional aspects of what they did to influence opinion and affect the election, and given the fact that it turned on less than 80,000 votes in three states, to me, it just exceeds logic and credulity that they didn't affect the election, and it's my belief they actually turned it.
The evidence doesn't really show that the Russian influence campaign amounted to much. As Reason's Jacob Sullum has carefully detailed, the Russian social media campaign spending was a drop in the bucket when compared to overall online ad revenue, and the content seemed to focus on affirming preexisting beliefs. If it accomplished anything, it was to heighten already existing points of cultural conflict. It "exceeds logic and credulity" to think that this campaign of affirmation altered the election's outcome. Especially when you remember that this didn't happen in a vaccum: At the same time the Russians were buying Facebook ads, countless other groups were spending far more on election messages.
Woodruff asks Clapper why he's inflaming this feud now. He explains, "I am so concerned about the health and strength of our institutions and our values that I spent a lot of time defending, that I had to speak out."
Ah, the health and strength of those institution and its values. Let's scroll up the interview a little bit. When Woodruff asked whether the intelligence community had, indeed, sometimes gone too far in their work, here's the extremely vague way Clapper talks about the congressional committees that monitor intelligence agencies:
So the members on those committees have to represent our citizens to make sure that what the intelligence community is doing is legal, ethical and moral. And we have had cases where, depending on the situation, post-9/11, for example, where our intelligence community did things that, after the fact, people objected to.
Torture. He's talking about torture. What's amazing here is that he can't even bring himself to use the "advanced interrogation techniques" doublespeak that they had settled on. The intelligence community "did things." Just, you know, stuff. And people objected to it "after the fact," as though the totality of what they were up to hadn't been carefully concealed from us and the evidence destroyed.
I cannot imagine why Americans should be interested in the opinions about the norms and ethics of our federal institution from a man who won't speak honestly about Americans' distrust of our intelligence agencies, and who thinks we're so stupid that some Facebook ads can trick us into voting for candidates we don't want.
Photo Credit: Paul Hennessy/Polaris/Newscom