Earlier, I noted that James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, offered a hasty and oddly-phrased defense of PRISM, the massive data surveillance system exposed by the Washington Post yesterday evening. Clapper claimed that FISA courts have imposed restrictions that “ensure that only non-U.S. persons outside the U.S. are targeted, and that minimize the acquisition, retention and dissemination of incidentally acquired information about U.S. persons,” which doesn’t actually mean that the NSA isn’t accessing massive amounts of data from US persons while trying to find and target non-US persons. In fact, there would be almost impossible to do the latter without having access to everything.
Even before the exposure of PRISM, The Hill’s Carlo Munoz wondered if Clapper hadn’t lied to Congress in testimony three months ago, when he denied that the NSA was rummaging through American e-mails. That question may be more pertinent than Munoz thought (via Instapundit):
Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Clapper denied allegations by panel members the NSA conducted electronic surveillance of Americans on U.S. soil.
“Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” committee member Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Clapper during the March 12 hearing.
In response, Clapper replied quickly: “No, sir.”
“There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect [intelligence on Americans], but not wittingly,” the U.S. intelligence chief told Wyden and the rest of the committee.
That said, “particularly in the case of NSA and CIA, there are structures against tracking American citizens in the United States for foreign intelligence purposes,” Clapper added.
Earlier in the day yesterday, Clapper tried to parse his denial:
On Thursday, Clapper clarified his remarks during the March hearing, telling the National Journal his comments were referring to NSA or other intelligence agencies intentionally reviewing e-mails and other electronic communications.
“What I said was, ‘the NSA does not voyeuristically pore through U.S. citizens’ e-mails.’ I stand by that,” Clapper said.
I wonder if he stands by that specific denial today? Perhaps he’ll claim that the qualifier of voyeuristically lets him off the hook. If PRISM accesses the entire output of nine major Internet providers for patterns to flag within content as the Washington Post reported, then the NSA does go through the e-mails of US citizens, even if they pledge to “minimize” its “acquisition, retention, and dissemination,” as Clapper claimed after the PRISM story broke. Whether or not the agency gets a voyeuristic thrill is hardly the issue for Americans who at least had some illusions that their government wasn’t snooping on their Internet communications without having a specific reason to do so.
Now we have another of Barack Obama’s direct reports who appears to have either flat-out lied or attempted to at least mislead Congress while the legislative branch conducted its oversight responsibilities. If one wanted to look for patterns, there seems to be one developing at the highest ranks of this administration.