Clapper Couldn’t Even Do Better Than “Least Untruthful” with a Day’s Notice

As I noted yesterday, when Andrea Mitchell asked James Clapper about his lie to Ron Wyden earlier this year, Clapper offered a baloney answer, admitting both that he gave the “least untruthful” answer and that he had been “too cute by half.”

First– as I said, I have great respect for Senator 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. So I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful manner by saying no.

[snip]

And this has to do with of course somewhat of a semantic, perhaps some would say too– too cute by half. But it is– there are honest differences on the semantics of what– when someone says “collection” to me, that has a specific meaning, which may have a different meaning to him. [my emphasis]

It was such a terrible response to Mitchell’s question, for ten whole minutes I wished Rahm Emanuel were back in the White House to rip Clapper to shreds for such a media fail.

But what makes Clapper’s answer — and his retroactive explanations for it — far, far worse is that Ron Wyden gave him a day to figure out how to answer.

One of the most important responsibilities a Senator has is oversight of the intelligence community. 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. [my emphasis]

And after Clapper lied to Wyden’s face, Wyden gave him a chance to amend it, which he did not take.

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. [my emphasis]

Wyden is making it clear: this was a deliberate, knowing lie to Congress. And no one wants to talk about it.

Which, as Wyden further notes, undermines any pretense that Congress exercise adequate oversight over the Executive Branch.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

14 replies
  1. William Ockham says:

    Wow. I had thought that Clapper’s answer was a very poor snap decision and that there was a staff failure to clean up after him. Instead, he deliberately told a lie to Wyden, knowing that Wyden knew it was a lie, but that Wyden couldn’t call him on it. At least we know now what Clapper means when he says he has “great respect” for someone.

  2. ApacheTrout says:

    remarkable. A gift-wrapped opportunity to hold someone (other than famous baseball players) accountable for lying under oath to Congress. Failing to charge him with perjury will be another nail in Congress’ coffin, another step removed from the theory of co-equal branches. A willingness to be subservient to the executive branch.

  3. beowulf says:

    Clapper is a cabinet officer, Holder should be appointing a special counsel to investigate his alleged lying to Congress as well as Snowden’s allegations about apparent FISA and perhaps (for intercepts that don’t involve a foreign power) the criminal wiretapping statute.

    Even within FISA, there’s this subsection.
    “(i) Destruction of unintentionally acquired information
    In circumstances involving the unintentional acquisition by an electronic, mechanical, or other surveillance device of the contents of any communication, under circumstances in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and a warrant would be required for law enforcement purposes, and if both the sender and all intended recipients are located within the United States, such contents shall be destroyed upon recognition, unless the Attorney General determines that the contents indicate a threat of death or serious bodily harm to any person.”
    http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/50/1806

    Even if Clapper is unwittingly collecting information on US persons, he has a duty to wittingly destroy it beyond recognition. Of course he won’t be sweating this, nothing will happen to anyone but Snowden.

  4. orionATL says:

    Lt gen james clapper

    General keith alexander

    it ain’t lyin’ when it’s generals in the u.s. military conducting “information operations”.

    “..http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

    4th_Psychological_Operations_Group

    Military Deception (MILDEC)..

    MILDEC is described as being those actions executed to deliberately mislead adversary decision makers as to friendly military capabilities, intentions, and operations, thereby causing the adversary to take specific actions (or inactions) that will contribute to the accomplishment of the friendly forces’ mission. MILDEC and OPSEC are complementary activities — MILDEC seeks to encourage incorrect analysis, causing the adversary to arrive at specific false deductions, while OPSEC seeks to deny real information to an adversary, and prevent correct deduction of friendly plans. To be effective, a MILDEC operation must be susceptible to adversary collection systems and “seen” as credible to the enemy commander and staff. A plausible approach to MILDEC planning is to employ a friendly course of action (COA) that can be executed by friendly forces and that adversary intelligence can verify. However, MILDEC planners must not fall into the trap of ascribing to the adversary particular attitudes, values, and reactions that “mirror image” likely friendly actions in the same situation, i.e., assuming that the adversary will respond or act in a particular manner based on how we would respond. There are always competing priorities for the resources required for deception and the resources required for the real operation. For this reason, the deception plan should be developed concurrently with the real plan, starting with the commander’s and staff’s initial estimate, to ensure proper resourcing of both. To encourage incorrect analysis by the adversary, it is usually more efficient and effective to provide a false purpose for real activity than to create false activity. OPSEC of the deception plan is at least as important as OPSEC of the real plan, since compromise of the deception may expose the real plan. This requirement for close hold planning while ensuring detailed coordination is the greatest challenge to MILDEC planners. On joint staffs, MILDEC planning and oversight responsibility is normally organized as a staff deception element in the operations directorate of a joint staff (J-3).[4]

    MILDEC as an IO Core Capability. MILDEC is fundamental to successful IO. It exploits the adversary’s information systems, processes, and capabilities. MILDEC relies upon understanding how the adversary commander and supporting staff think and plan and how both use information management to support their efforts. This requires a high degree of coordination with all elements of friendly forces’ activities in the information environment as well as with physical activities. Each of the core, supporting, and related capabilities has a part to play in the development of successful MILDEC and in maintaining its credibility over time. While PA should not be involved in the provision of false information, it must be aware of the intent and purpose of MILDEC in order not to inadvertently compromise it.[4]
    A message targeted to exploit a fissure between a key member of the adversary’s leadership who has a contentious relationship with another key decision maker is an example. That message could cause internal strife resulting in the adversary foregoing an intended course of action and adopting a position more favorable to our interests.[5]
    http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA470825&Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf

  5. lefty665 says:

    Clapper has not cleaned it up because he does not have to. The deal’s been long done, and Wyden (like Risen, AP and Rosen) is not part of it . Who is going to force Clapper to come clean? Not Reid, not DiFi, not Holder, not Alexander, and especially not Obama.

    For decades semantics have been the key for Congress to get straight answers out of the intelligence community. Ask the right question, get the right answer. In exchange for the gang of 8 being proactively minimally read into the new paradigm of NSA looking in instead of out, they are effectively silenced and compelled to collude with the Administration.

    Collusion, among other things, includes:
    Kabuki theater hearings that are vehicles for propaganda.
    Turning a blind eye to dissembling, like Clapper’s, that has crossed the line from parsing to lying.

    It seems coincident with crossing the abyss (Frank Church’s word) of NSA pointed out to in. Might the gang of 8 also have been given personal examples of how information that was being collected could be integrated to provide a more “complete” picture of a target?

    That could certainly help Congress understand the effectiveness of the programs, the value in continued appropriations, and provide an incentive to cooperate in keeping it all secret. Maybe why Jay was Jello?

    Could Clapper’s observation that he was having severe intestinal distress (shit fit?) be more a veiled public threat intended to keep Congress in line than a physical description of a personal problem?

    It all worked for J Edgar when he did domestic collection. Maybe the functions have moved from FBI to DNI.

  6. Bob Soper says:

    Since Wyden is one of my senators, so I called to ask whether Clapper would be referred to the DOJ. The reply was, “obviously there will need to be hearings.”

  7. orionATL says:

    @orionATL:

    More “mildec” – military deception – from our leaders:

    Lying about the zazi plot:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/blog/2013/jun/11/nsa-prism-scandal-russia-would-consider-edward-snowden-asylum-claim-live-coverage?guni=Network%20front:network-front%20aux-1%20mini-bento:Bento%20box%208%20col:Position1:sublinks

    ” The Obama administration says the Prism Internet surveillance program was needed to foil Najibullah Zazi’s plot to bomb the NYC subway. But the chairs of both congressional intelligence committees say a different program, one that collects phone metadata, foiled the Zazi plot.

    Who’s right? It appears the answer may be neither.

    Zazi was caught in 2009 when he sent an email to an address in Pakistan known to be connected with al-Qaeda. Today the White House declassified talking points showing that Prism sucked the email up.

    What the government leaves out of the explanation, reported by the AP, is that the email interception wouldn’t have required a broad, warrantless program like Prism:

    That’s because, even before the surveillance laws of 2007 and 2008, the FBI had the authority to — and did, regularly — monitor email accounts linked to terrorists. The only difference was, before the laws changed, the government needed a warrant.

    It is unclear why House intelligence chair Mike Rogers and Senate intelligence chair Dianne Feinstein said that phone sweeps nabbed Zazi. The AP notes a general air of confusion about the Zazi case among government officials, who have been “misstating key details about the plot”:

    Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said investigators “found backpacks with bombs.” Really, the bombs hadn’t been completed and the backpacks the FBI found were unrelated to the plot.

    Feinstein said the FBI had Zazi under surveillance for six months. Court testimony showed Zazi was watched only for about two weeks before he was arrested…”

    First views and impressions are lasting for millions.

    So what how to practice mildec to control those initial bits of info?

    embed falsity in truth, that’s what.

    example:

    Remember the fbi agent who shot the chechyan he was interrogating because he had a knife?

    Only he didn’t have a knife, or a sword, or a metal pole.

  8. C says:

    @ApacheTrout:

    I know it’s almost as if people in congress have no institutional respect or self respect. They are apparently fine with being cut out, lied to, and given “too cute by half” answers. Sad as it is it makes you miss someone like Newt Gingrich who, for all his failings (and there are many), seemed to care very much about the power of congress at least when he was in it.

  9. lefty665 says:

    @C: “Sad as it is it makes you miss someone like Newt Gingrich.” Uh, no it does not.

    Newt the patoot was the architect of the scorched earth Repub Congressional politics we are “enjoying” so much today. Remember “I am going to change the House even if I have to destroy it”? He did, and he did. He got his majority and used it to shut down the government and to impeach Clinton. He is the very model of hypocrisy. No one with any sense of decency or respect for governance can miss Newt a damn bit.

    Pull the other one C(allista), it’s got bells on.

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