Spy chief wins anti-transparency award

 

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s claim that the National Security Agency (NSA) was not collecting information about millions of Americans earned him an award for the worst open government performance in 2013.

Clapper was given the disreputable Rosemary Award, handed out by The George Washington University’s National Security Archive, for denying before Congress that the spy agency was collecting the data. 

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In a Senate hearing last year, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Clapper whether or not the NSA collected “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

“No sir,” Clapper responded. “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”

Since then, documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have shown that Clapper’s statement was incorrect. The NSA collects records about millions of Americans’ phone calls under a controversial program authorized by a section of the Patriot Act.

The records contain information about the numbers people dial as well as the duration and frequency of the calls, but not the content of people’s conversations.

Clapper later said that his answer was the “least untruthful” possible, because he was prohibited from speaking publicly about the classified program. He said that the question was akin to being asked “When are you going to stop beating your wife,” which would not be “answerable necessarily by a simple yes or no.”

Lawmakers including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have called for Clapper to step down or be kicked out of office for the misleading testimony.

The National Security Archive hands out the Rosemary Award once a year to “highlight the lowlights of government secrecy.” The award was named for Rose Mary Woods, the secretary to former President Richard Nixon, who testified that she had accidentally erased more than 18 minutes of a critical Watergate tape by hitting the erase key while improbably stretching to answer the phone.

The organization also recognized Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, as well as President Obama for claiming that the secretive spy court was “transparent” and that lawmakers fully understood the details of the phone data collection program.