US Director of National Intelligence legs it

Good riddance, says senator who caught him lying

Videos James Clapper, who as Director of National Intelligence was economical with the truth when it came to acknowledging US domestic surveillance activities subsequently revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, has announced his resignation.

Clapper isn't resigning over lies, but instead because it's traditional for heads like himself to resign when a president takes office. They can be reappointed by the incoming president, but Clapper indicated that he had had enough of government service.

"I submitted my letter of resignation last night, which felt pretty good," he told a congressional hearing on Thursday. "I got 64 days left and I think I'd have a hard time with my wife anything past that."

Clapper has spent the last six years as DNI, part of a 50-year career in the government's employ. He began in the Marine Corps before switching to the Air Force to work in signals intelligence.

He retired in 1995 as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and worked as a contractor with BAE Systems and Booz Allen Hamilton before rejoining the government after September 11 as Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

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President Obama appointed Clapper to the DNI position in 2010, over objections from some members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He oversaw an expansion of the use of private contractors in the intelligence services, including by his former employers Booz Allen Hamilton, who hired Edward Snowden.

And it was Snowden who was to embarrass Clapper mightily. In March of 2013, he was giving his usual briefing to his supposed overseers on the Senate Intelligence Committee when Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) asked him if the NSA was collecting dossiers of information on American citizens.

He replied "No sir."

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Three months later, the first files from the Snowden archive showed that this was exactly what the NSA was doing, and the linguistic jujitsu began. To date he has given five explanations for his answer:

  • At first he explained that he had thought the senator was asking about email collection, despite Wyden never mentioning email.
  • A few days later Clapper said that the key word in the question was "collect" – in intelligence speak, data is only considered "collected" when an analyst looks at it, rather than when it's stored on servers.
  • He then told NBC that he had answered what he thought was an unfair question in the "most truthful, or least untruthful manner."
  • Excuse number four was that he thought the metadata collection program was classified, but he didn't take the opportunity to amend his response when asked to do so by the Senate.
  • Then in December, Clapper's general counsel, Robert Litt, claimed that his boss was caught unawares by the question. This doesn't fly because, as Wyden explained to The Register, he had submitted the question to Clapper 24 hours in advance, as is traditional.

Now, with his resignation and seeming unwillingness to stay on, those statements are pretty much moot. However, Senator Wyden issued a statement that is the polite version of "So long, don't let the door hit you on the way out," and warned of what we might expect from his replacement.

"During Director Clapper's tenure, senior intelligence officials engaged in a deception spree regarding mass surveillance. Top officials, officials who reported to Director Clapper, repeatedly misled the American people and even lied to them," Wyden said.

"The combination of a tendency toward secrecy – which the president-elect has exhibited with regard to his taxes – and press access, combined with the desire for expanded surveillance authorities – which he demonstrated when he responded to Russian hacking by saying 'I wish I had that power' – is highly dangerous.

"I urge the next administration to take a different approach and reject the use of secret law that has been all too common in recent years. In America the truth always comes out eventually, and when it does, Americans have proven time and again they will be outraged at the government agencies, officials and politicians who allow secret and expansive interpretations of the law." ®

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