Clapper apologizes for 'erroneous' info on data collection
WASHINGTON — Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has apologized for telling Congress earlier this year that the National Security Agency does not collect data on millions of Americans, a response he now says was “clearly erroneous.”
Clapper apologized in a letter to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein. His agency posted the letter on Tuesday on its website.
Leaks by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden have revealed the NSA's sweeping data collection of U.S. phone records and some Internet traffic every day, though U.S. intelligence officials have said the programs are aimed at targeting foreigners and terrorist suspects mostly overseas.
Clapper was asked during a hearing in March by Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, if the NSA gathered “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.”
At first, Clapper answered definitively: “No.”
Pressed by Wyden, Clapper changed his answer. “Not wittingly,” he said. “There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”
Last month, in an interview with NBC News after revelations about the program, Clapper said: “I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful, manner” — because the program was classified.
In his letter to Feinstein, Clapper wrote that he was thinking about whether the NSA gathered the content of emails, rather than the metadata of the phone records — the record of calls to and from U.S. citizens and the length of those phone calls.
“I realized later Sen. Wyden was asking about ... metadata collection, rather than content collection,” Clapper wrote. “Thus, my response was clearly erroneous, for which I apologize.”
Feinstein said in a statement: “I have received Director Clapper's letter and believe it speaks for itself. I have no further comment at this time.”
Wyden spokesman Tom Caiazza said that when Wyden staffers contacted Clapper's office shortly after the hearing, his staffers “acknowledged that the statement was inaccurate but refused to correct the public record when given the opportunity.”
“Sen. Wyden is deeply troubled by a number of misleading statements senior officials have made about domestic surveillance in the past several years. He will continue pushing for an open and honest debate,” Caiazza said.
In the letter, Clapper said he could now publicly correct the record, because the existence of the metadata collection program has been declassified since the deluge of leaks from Snowden. A copy of the letter posted on the DNI website was stamped June 21 but made public on Tuesday.
Snowden is believed to be in a Moscow airport transit area, seeking asylum from one of more than a dozen countries.
Since the revelations, the Obama administration has said the leaks have caused damage to national security, including tipping off al-Qaida and other terrorist groups to specific types of U.S. electronic surveillance.
But under pressure from lawmakers and privacy activists, the administration took the extraordinary step of declassifying many of the details surrounding the surveillance programs and how they work, to explain to Americans that NSA is not spying directly on them, which would violate its charter.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Wildfires threaten Forest Service budget
- 5th video of Planned Parenthood released
- Why circus went on with bad storms in the area under investigation
- Pickup driver who opened fire near Camp Shelby sought; no injuries reported
- Brown’s shooting makes ex-Ferguson cop ‘unemployable,’ he tells magazine
- Congress challenges human trafficking report
- Mexican cilantro linked to illnesses
- ATF says gunman not part of Fast and Furious sting
- FBI probes Clinton’s private email setup
- GOP hopefuls take on illegal immigration in debate preview
- Milwaukee archdiocese wants to pay 300 abuse victims $21M; it’s not enough, some say