NSA director-turned-cable-news-pundit James Clapper is still insisting he wasn’t lying when he told a congressional panel the NSA wasn’t spying on American citizens – three months before Edward Snowden told everyone it was.
“I didn’t lie, I made a big mistake. I just simply didn’t understand what I was being asked about,” Clapper told CNN’s New Day, marking the third time he’s changed his story regarding his notorious pre-Snowden testimony. He further explained he’d been thinking of another dubiously constitutional surveillance program – section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – rather than section 215 of the Patriot Act, perhaps hoping the audience had forgotten the context of his response six years earlier.
Asked in early 2013 whether the NSA had gathered “any type of data at all on millions of Americans,” Clapper responded “not wittingly.” Just a few months later, Snowden released his first explosive trove of documents exposing the NSA’s massive covert data collection program. Oops!
It was hard to spin what appeared to be naked perjury, but the bejowled national security director has certainly tried his best since then. Back in 2014, Clapper was claiming Sen. Ron Wyden had put him on the spot by asking him about a classified program in an “unsecure” setting, implying he had to keep quiet about the program, because terrorism (even though Stellar Wind and its replacement have never led to the apprehension of a single terrorist).
Clapper had initially claimed he gave the “least untruthful” answer to a “complicated” question, splitting hairs over the definition of “collection” and complaining about the ‘When did you stop beating your wife’-type question. But Wyden quickly dispelled that excuse, pointing out that the NSA director had received the senator’s questions a day in advance, to provide time to prepare his answers, and had even been given a chance to qualify his response.
Wyden’s response, incidentally, also disqualifies Clapper’s most recent excuse for lying. But you almost have to feel sorry for a guy who’s been reduced from running the nation’s most powerful spy agency to making guest appearances on CNN. What’s his next response going to be, blaming his evil twin? Oh, right. He already tried that, too.
Clapper, faced with an absence of evidence to back up the conspiracy theory that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, once told NBC that Russians are “almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever.” Perhaps that statement was a cry for help.