The current Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper told a House Intelligence Committee hearing he had resigned. “I submitted my letter of resignation last night,” the scorned former lieutenant general told Congressmen Thursday, “[and it] felt pretty good,” he concluded.
While the L.A. Times confirms Clapper had long pledged to retire at the end of the year, the public, as well as privacy advocates across the country, have long wondered whether lies regarding the U.S. government’s mass surveillance programs would ever come back to haunt him. Now, as Clapper has only 64 more days until the end of his term and President-elect Donald Trump has the opportunity to build his own network of intelligence leaders, we know perjury claims may never catch up to him after all.
In March of 2013, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) asked Clapper whether the National Security Agency collected “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans,” to which the National Intelligence leader replied: “No, sir.” Skeptical, Sen. Wyden asked Clapper one more time: “It does not?”
Clearly irritable, Clapper responded the NSA did not collect data “wittingly.” But, he added, “[t]here are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”
Wyden had handed the questions over to Clapper’s office one day in advance, giving the intelligence leader time to think twice before providing inaccurate information to House leaders. Nevertheless, Clapper’s unwillingness to be truthful under oath was promptly turned into reason for mockery, prompting the creation of the updated “Has James Clapper been indicted for perjury yet?” website.
At the time, a group led by Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA) pressured President Barack Obama to let Clapper go.
In a letter sent to the White House, Issa and others wrote that Clapper “continues to hold his position despite lying to Congress under oath about the existence of bulk data collection programs in March 2013.” Skeptical, congressmen told Obama that “[a]sking Director Clapper, and other federal intelligence officials who misrepresented programs to Congress and the courts, to report to you on needed reforms … is not a credible solution,” suggesting that allowing Clapper and his minions to work on reforms targeting his own team was, at best, comical.
But despite being heavily criticized in the letter for not addressing concerns related to the NSA circumventing and undermining the private tech industry’s encryption standards, the White House responded simply by saying Obama had “full faith in Director Clapper’s leadership of the intelligence community. The Director has provided an explanation for his answers to Senator Wyden and made clear that he did not intend to mislead the Congress.”
Unfortunately for Clapper and the Obama administration, former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden had already stepped out of the shadows on June 6th of 2013 when Issa’s letter reached Obama’s desk. And because of Snowden’s efforts, the public had already learned about the NSA’s unconstitutional surveillance program.
What Snowden helped to prove was that not only was the NSA collecting data on hundreds of millions of innocent Americans before Clapper appeared before Congress, but that the Director of National Intelligence had also lied under oath.
Following the pressure from Congress and the public, Clapper finally addressed perjury claims, saying only he had “misunderstood” Sen. Wyden’s questions.
At the time, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer “[t]hat Clapper is lying to Congress is probably more injurious to our intelligent capabilities than anything Snowden did.” Despite the public outcry, the now publicly disgraced intelligence leader is being allowed to walk away scot-free. Something the Internet is not ignoring.
James Clapper doesn’t deserve the dignity of a resignation. Congress should’ve impeached him for lying under oath about NSA spying.
— Jason Pye (@pye) November 17, 2016
Snowden told us truth abt NSA collecting data, James Clapper lied abt it under oath to Congress. Guess which one got in trouble.
— John Fugelsang (@JohnFugelsang) November 17, 2016
Friendly reminder clapper illegally spied on Americans and then lied to Congress under oath. #ByeFelicia https://t.co/Z8yDl69exo
— Noah (@reeb1011) November 17, 2016
Despite the public outrage, it’s unlike that Obama, or even President-elect Trump, follows though with any special push against the resigning official. What’s left for those concerned about privacy and the erosion of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is to stand vigilant, bringing attention to these matters as they are revealed and standing strong with those like Sens. Paul and Wyden, who have both been the strongest pro-privacy advocates Congress has had in recent years.