At a March 12, 2103 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) asked Director James Clapper, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Director Clapper responded, “No, sir…not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps, but not, not wittingly.”
Here is a clip of that exchange:
In early June 2013, whistleblower Edward Snowden began leaking information that revealed that the NSA does, in fact, collect private data on millions of American citizens via PRISM, that this was being done at the time of Clapper’s testimony, and that Clapper knew this when he testified.
On June 8, Director Clapper told NBC that he made the “least untruthful” statement he could without revealing classified information. Later, he sent a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the intelligence committee, claiming to have misunderstood Sen. Wyden’s question.
However, Sen. Wyden knew what he was asking about. He happens to be on the Intelligence Committee, and was specifically asking about PRISM and was trying to get Clapper to discuss the program with Congress. Instead of stating that he could not discuss the details of a classified program, Clapper instead chose to answer the question in a manner that was misleading and dishonest.
By providing false testimony, Director Clapper appears to have violated laws prohibiting false statements and obstruction of a congressional inquiry. In a similar case in 1977, the DOJ prosecuted CIA Director Richard Helms for lying to a congressional committee about CIA operations in Chile.
On July 29, the nonprofit government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that the Department of Justice investigate Director Clapper for lying to Congress.
CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan stated:
The Obama administration has been extremely aggressive in prosecuting leaks. It is only reasonable to expect DOJ to be at least as diligent in investigating high government officials who deliberately lie to Congress. (source)
If DOJ can hound former executive Thomas Drake for years, only to drop its case at the last minute and allow him to plead to a minor misdemeanor, and waste valuable resources prosecuting baseball player Roger Clemens for lying about using performance-enhancing drugs, you’d think the department could find the bandwidth to investigate a top official for lying about an issue impacting the constitutional rights of millions of Americans. Only in intelligence circles could providing ‘the least untruthful’ response not be considered and outright lie. If the administration hopes to maintain any credibility with the American people, Director Clapper must be held accountable for deliberately lying to Congress.