Spy critic Wyden attacks as Clapper resigns

Spy critic Wyden attacks as Clapper resigns
© Greg Nash

A leading Senate critic of aggressive U.S. intelligence powers laid into Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Thursday following the spy chief’s announcement that he had submitted his letter of resignation.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenGrassley defends acting AG against calls for recusal Advocates draw battle lines over national privacy law Congress should pass bill to prevent stacked taxation of digital purchases MORE (D-Ore.), who repeatedly clashed with Clapper on the Senate Intelligence Committee, scolded the outgoing intelligence official, accusing him of repeatedly misleading the American people and lying to Congress.

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“During Director Clapper’s tenure, senior intelligence officials engaged in a deception spree regarding mass surveillance,” said Wyden, a champion of civil liberties advocates. “Top officials, officials who reported to Director Clapper, repeatedly misled the American people and even lied to them.”

Wyden famously squared off against Clapper in a 2013 open hearing during which Clapper appeared to lie about the scope of secret U.S. intelligence powers.

In that hearing, Wyden asked Clapper whether the National Security Agency (NSA) “collect[s] any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?"

“No, sir,” Clapper responded. "There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect [data on Americans], but not wittingly.”

Weeks later, reams of materials leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden showed that, in fact, the NSA was collecting records about millions of Americans’ phone conversations. Documents also showed that the NSA also “incidentally” gathered internet data about Americans in what critics call a “backdoor” spying program.  

“I wouldn’t have been doing my job if I hadn’t asked that question,” Wyden said in a statement on Thursday, after Clapper announced his resignation. “My staff and I spent weeks preparing it, and I had my staff send him the question in advance so that he would be prepared to answer it.”

“The director’s office refused to correct the record,” he added.

“Regardless of what was going through the director’s head when he testified, failing to correct the record was a deliberate decision to lie to the American people about what their government was doing. And within a few months, of course, the truth came out.”

Clapper’s office has offered a number of explanations for the apparent misstatement, including that he merely forgot about the phone records program and that he had offered the “least untruthful” answer possible in an unclassified setting.

Some critics had called for Clapper to resign over the incident, which they describe as an act of perjury.

On Thursday morning, Clapper testified before the House intelligence Committee that he had submitted his letter of resignation to the White House. The move was expected, but nonetheless leaves President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMeet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time Avenatti denies domestic violence allegations: 'I have never struck a woman' Trump names handbag designer as ambassador to South Africa MORE with another senior vacancy to fill as he staffs up his administration.