President Obama’s spokesman defended the intelligence official who told Congress that the government does not collect data on the American people, a comment that has proven irritating to lawmakers given the revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) collects phone records.
“[Obama] certainly believes that Director Clapper has been straight and direct in the answers he’s given,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters today.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., disagrees. “One of the most important responsibilities a Senator has is oversight of the intelligence community,” Wyden said in a statement today. “This job cannot be done responsibly if Senators aren’t getting straight answers to direct questions. When NSA Director Alexander failed to clarify previous public statements about domestic surveillance, it was necessary to put the question to the Director of National Intelligence. So that he would be prepared to answer, I sent the question to Director Clapper’s office a day in advance. After the hearing was over my staff and I gave his office a chance to amend his answer. Now public hearings are needed to address the recent disclosures and the American people have the right to expect straight answers from the intelligence leadership to the questions asked by their representatives.”
James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, was asked about the NSA’s activities in March. “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked.
“No, sir,” Clapper replied.
Clapper acknowledged this weekend that he was less than forthcoming with Wyden. “I thought though in retrospect I was asked when are you going to start–stop beating your wife kind of question which is, meaning not answerable necessarily, by a simple yes or no,” he told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “So I responded in what I thought was the most truthful or least most untruthful manner, by saying, “No.” And again, going back to my metaphor, what I was thinking of is looking at the Dewey Decimal numbers of those books in the metaphorical library. To me collection of U.S. Persons data would mean taking the books off the shelf, opening it up and reading it.”
When a reporter cited this interview to Carney, the press secretary maintained that Clapper “has been aggressive in providing as much information as possible” on the NSA program.