First off, let’s marvel at the unexpected genius of Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), who turns out to be Congress’ most adept perjury-trap specialist, perhaps of all time. Recall that it was Johnson’s gentle and friendly softball question on May 15th that ended up encouraging Eric Holder to categorically deny that he’d ever heard or or been involved in the potential prosecution of a reporter under the Espionage Act of 1917 … eight days before the warrant he personally approved making that argument in 2010 surfaced. In an exchange from March 2012, Johnson had an opportunity to question NSA Director Keith Alexander about precisely the kind of concerns that the exposé of PRISM confirms — that the signals intel agency can spy on content coming through American Internet servers.
Forbes’ Andy Greenberg points out Alexander’s categorical denials that appear to be false testimony by yet another high-ranking Obama administration official:
In a congressional hearing in March of last year, for instance, NSA Director Keith Alexander was questioned about a Wired magazine cover story that included on-the-record interviews with multiple ex-NSA officials describing the agency’s collection of Americans’ voice and digital information. Speaking to Representative Hank Johnson, Alexander responded 14 times that the agency doesn’t collect the kind of domestic data Bamford had alleged.
Here’s a sample of that questioning:
Rep. Johnson: Does the NSA intercept Americans’ cell phone conversations?
Director Alexander: No.
What judicial consent is required for NSA to intercept communications and information involving American citizens?
Within the United States, that would be the FBI lead. If it were a foreign actor in the United States, the FBI would still have to lead. It could work that with NSA or other intelligence agencies as authorized. But to conduct that kind of collection in the United States it would have to go through a court order, and the court would have to authorize it. We’re not authorized to do it, nor do we do it.
The excerpt doesn’t include this, but Alexander categorically denied more than once in this clip that NSA even had the capability to conduct surveillance in the manner Wired reported, and that PRISM apparently confirms. Perhaps Alexander didn’t want to spill the beans in open testimony, but the proper answer would have been, “I don’t want to discuss our capabilities in open session, but I’d be glad to address your concerns in a classified briefing.” That would have raised eyebrows immediately — as it did yesterday with Eric Holder — but would have avoided perjury.
Forbes also has the video of DNI James Clapper’s suddenly-questionable testimony this year:
Sen. Wyden: Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?
Director Clapper: No sir.
It does not.
Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertantly perhaps collect, but not wittingly.
I’d like to see how the NSA squares this testimony with the exposure of PRISM. I’d guess that Senator Wyden and other members of Congress would as well.