Did Director of National Intelligence James Clapper mislead lawmakers when he told a Senate committee hearing three months ago the National Security Agency does not “wittingly” collect data on millions of Americans?
On March 12, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked Clapper at a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”
Clapper responded: “No, sir.”
Wyden continued by asking, “It does not?”
Clapper stated: “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect –but not wittingly.”
Asked about those remarks today, Clapper told the National Journal, “What I said was, the NSA does not voyeuristically pore through U.S. citizens’ emails. I stand by that.”
However, Clapper’s testimony to Wyden did not refer to emails. Clapper was asked a general question about “any type of data” collection. The intelligence chief did not say anything about emails in his reply.
Clapper’s testimony is now at odds with multiple news media disclosures.
Yesterday, the Washington Post reported it obtained a top-secret document on a government program in which the NSA and FBI are “tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets.”
The program, code-named PRISM, was utilized to obtain information that has become a critical part of President Obama’s daily briefing, the Post reported.
Reported the Post: “An internal presentation of 41 briefing slides on PRISM, dated April 2013 and intended for senior analysts in the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate, described the new tool as the most prolific contributor to the President’s Daily Brief, which cited PRISM data in 1,477 items last year.”
According to the slides and other supporting materials obtained by the Post, “NSA reporting increasingly relies on PRISM as its leading source of raw material, accounting for nearly 1 in 7 intelligence reports.”
Clapper’s office is responsible for producing Obama’s daily briefing.
In response to the Post’s disclosure of the PRISM program, Clapper told the newspaper that “information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats.”
“The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans.”
Clapper claimed there were numerous inaccuracies in reports about PRISM by the Post and the London Guardian newspaper, but he did not specify any.
The Guardian, which also obtained a top-secret document, reported the NSA was granted direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other U.S. Internet giants under the PRISM program, allowing to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats.
The existence of the PRISM program is the second disclosure this week that apparently contradicts Clapper’s denial of collecting data on millions of Americans.
Yesterday, the Guardian broke the story exposing the NSA’s collection of the telephone records of millions of U.S. Verizon customers.
A secret court order obtained by the Guardian requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information related to every phone calls in its systems, both domestically and international calls.
With additional research by Joshua Klein.