Director of National Intelligence James Clapper didn't lie when he told a Senate committee that the government doesn't "wittingly" sweep up Americans' personal information, an agency attorney said Friday: He forgot that the program even existed.
Robert Litt, who serves as DNI general counsel, told of the memory lapse while speaking at a panel discussion Friday being held by the Advisory Committee on Transparency and aired on C-SPAN.
The error came in an exchange several months before former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked materials about the NSA's spy program, said Litt.
"It was perfectly clear that he had absolutely forgotten the existence of the 215 program," Litt said Friday. "This is not an untruth or falsehood; this was a mistake on his part. We all make mistakes."
Litt continued that he also made a mistake after "because I did not think to counsel him that we should immediately send a classified letter to the committee correcting the record. I wish we had done that... his lawyer let him down in that regard. People make mistakes all the time and that was just a mistake."
The 215 program is the one that allows the NSA to collect phone call "metadata," including numbers called, as well as the date and time of the call.
The information is stored in a database that it then queries by using phone numbers that are associated with overseas terrorists, and officials say the information gathered is only used for that purpose.
Opponents, though, say the records searches violate Americans' privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment.
Clapper's statements back in 2013 created controversy, especially after Snowden's stolen documents revealed the NSA program.
At the time, Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden asked Clapper if NSA "collects any type of data at all." Clapper replied "no sir, it does not, and then, "not wittingly."
Clapper later sent a letter
to the Senate Intelligence Committee to apologize, saying "he simply didn't think" of Section 215, but instead about a different provision.
Litt said Friday that the DNI was only notified the day before of Wyden's question and that Clapper was "hit unaware."
On Thursday, a federal court ruled that bulk phone record collections are illegal, and lawmakers are weighing the renewal of the Patriot Act, with a vote set for next week in the House to reauthorize it while stopping the government's large collection of records.
However, reports Fox, Senate leaders including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, want the law to be reauthorized as it is.
Others, though, like Republicans Sen. Ted. Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul are aligned with liberal Democrats and insist the records should not be stored for every phone call. Others say the threat of the Islamic State demands the records be collected.
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