Director of National Intelligence General James Clapper has changed his story once again on why he gave a false answer in testimony before Congress while under oath. In a friendly interview with The Daily Beast Clapper changed his explanation from his previous statement that what he said was the “least untruthful” answer he could provide to now claiming he “misunderstood” the question he was being asked.
The new claim comes months after the initial explanation.
Clapper told The Daily Beast that he simply misunderstood Wyden’s question. At the time of the hearing last March, Congress had just finished consideration of a bill to renew the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Section 702 of that legislation gives the National Security Agency the authority to collect the electronic communications of non-U.S. persons. In his question, Wyden asked initially if the United States had collected “dossiers” on American citizens and referred to an answer to this question by then NSA director, Keith Alexander.
“I was not even thinking of what he was asking about, which is of course we now all know as section 215 of the Patriot Act governing the acquisition and storage of telephony business records metadata,” Clapper said.
A quick review of the exchange raises questions about this explanation.
Senator Wyden asks “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper answers “No sir.” Wyden then, recognizing that the Director of National Intelligence just gave a false answer, follows up to give Clapper an opportunity to correct himself “It does not?” But instead of correcting himself or even saying he can not comment Clapper doubles down on his knowingly false answer “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect—but not wittingly.”
As we know now, thanks to leaks by Edward Snowden, the NSA does wittingly collect data on hundreds of millions of Americans. Something General Clapper knew at the time of his testimony.
Even if Clapper thought, as he now claims, Wyden was referring to another program that was classified he has no right whatsoever to lie to Congress. If he felt he would jeopardize national security he could simply decline to answer, he is not allowed to lie under oath to Congress. Which, it should be said, happens all the time in national security related testimony where the official being questioned simply says “I think that is better answered in closed session.” For those who have watched intelligence committee hearings that response is not at all unfamiliar – it’s why the closed or rather executive session exists.
Clapper did not obfuscate or ask to enter closed session, he knowingly gave a false answer to a member of Congress while under oath. That’s why it’s perjury.