Clapper: We Should Have Disclosed Phone Tracking

Tuesday, 18 Feb 2014 12:01 PM

By Lisa Barron

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The U.S. government should have acknowledged its secret surveillance of Americans' phone records early on, says the nation's spy chief.

James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, now believes that the intelligence community kept its collection of millions of call records under section 215 of the Patriot Act a secret for too long, reports the Daily Beast.

"I probably shouldn't say this, but I will. Had we been transparent about this from the outset right after 9/11 — which is the genesis of the 215 program — and said both to the American people and to their elected representatives, we need to cover this gap, we need to make sure this never happens to us again, so here is what we are going to set up, here is how it's going to work, and why we have to do it, and here are the safeguards . . . We wouldn't have had the problem we had," Clapper told the publication.

Story continues below the video.

Clapper has had to defend the government's surveillance programs since former National Security contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified information about the agency's activities.

"What did us in here, what worked against us, was this shocking revelation," Clapper said.

Instead, he maintained, the public would have likely supported it had it been explained to them. "I don't think it would be of any greater concern to most Americans than fingerprints. Well people kind of accept that because they know about it," he said.

"But had we been transparent about it, and say here's one more thing we have to do as citizens for the common good, just like we have to go to airports two hours early, and take our shoes off, all the other things we do for the common good, this is one more thing," Clapper added.

That is a far cry from his March 12, 2013, testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, when he denied that the NSA spied on its citizens.

When Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon asked the intelligence chief, "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" Clapper responded, "No, sir." After Wyden then asked, "They do not?" he said, "Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps collect, but not wittingly."

Ben Wizner, a legal adviser to Snowden and the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, told the Daily Beast he agrees with Clapper's about face.

"If Clapper is suggesting that the American people should have been consulted before the NSA engaged in a mass phone call tracking program, I emphatically agree," he said.

"Whether we would have consented to that at the time will never be known, we are now having a debate in Congress and in the courts that we should have had then."

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