Senate Intelligence Committee Open Hearings: A Platform for Liars

Pentagon Papers era NYT Counsel James Goodale has a piece in the Guardian attracting a lot of attention. In it, he says the first step to reform NSA is to fire the liars.

The NSA has lied to the Congress, the courts, and perhaps even to the president himself, but no one seems to care.

The Director of National Intelligence James R Clapper admitted he lied to Congress about the NSA metadata collection program. He said the NSA had no such program – and then added that that was the least “untruthful” remark he could make. General Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, lied in 2012 that the NSA does not hold data on US citizens, and repeated similar misstatements, under oath, to Congress about the program:

We’re not authorized to do it [data collection on US citizens], nor do we do it.

NSA lawyers lied to secret Fisa court Judges John D Bates and Reggie B Walton. In recently released opinions, Bates said he had been lied to on three separate occasions and Walton said he had been lied to several times also.

But Clapper and Alexander have not been held in contempt of Congress. Nor have the Justice Department attorneys, who lied to Judges Walton and Bates, been disciplined.

And while he links to many of the best examples of James Clapper and Keith Alexander lying, he misses this.

In just its third open hearing this year, the Senate Intelligence Committee has arranged the following witnesses for tomorrow’s hearing on NSA’s spying.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) today announced the committee will hold an open hearing to consider legislative changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, to include the NSA call records program, on Thursday, September 26, at 2 p.m.

WHAT:  Public hearing on FISA, NSA call records


Panel I

  • Director of National Intelligence James Clapper
  • National Security AgencyDirector General Keith Alexander
  • Deputy Attorney General James Cole

Panel II

  • Ben Wittes, Brookings Institution
  • Tim Edgar, Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University

So DiFi’s idea of an “open hearing” is to invite two established liars. And for her non-governmental witnesses, one keeps declaring Congress NAKED! in the face of evidence the government lies to them, and the other tells fanciful stories about how much data NSA shares.

It’s like DiFi goes out of her way to find liars and their apologists to testify publicly.

That’s nothing new, though. Those other two open hearings? The Global Threat Assessment hearing where Clapper assured Ron Wyden the NSA didn’t collect data on millions of Americans. And the confirmation hearing for John Brennan, who once claimed the US had killed no civilians in an entire year of drone strikes (and, if his odd mouth gestures were the tell they appeared to be, he lied about leaks to journalists including on UndieBomb 2.0 in the hearing as well.)

It’s DiFi’s committee. And if she wants every single open hearing to serve as a platform for accomplished liars, I guess that’s her prerogative.

But observers should be clear that’s the purpose of the hearings.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

9 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    talk about stacking the deck!

    and wittes? there’s got to be some business connection between him/brookings and the u.s. spymasters.

    feinstein’s hearing is extraordinarily contemptuous of citizens achieving a better understanding of our government’s electronic spying.

  2. What Constitution? says:

    My money is on DiFi asking General Alexander how they got the doors to the Information Dominance room to make a “sssst” sound when they open and close. The answer is probably classified, though. And which Senate staffers have prepared a chart comparing the verbiage in Alexander’s “buck up, staffers” letter to the actual disclosed facts? I’m looking forward to that part of the hearing, when they ask General Alexander to explain the discrepancies there. What?

  3. Tom Zeller says:

    I recently attended a panel discussion on the NSA scandal at the Indiana University School of Law. Former long-time congressman Lee Hamilton, a very middle-of-the-road democrat and co-chair of the 9/11 Commission was visibly angry. He said if he were the Attorney General he would indict Clapper for perjury. He also expressed extreme disappointment that those on the intelligence committees took no action to change the law to make it clear that the current secret interpretation of the law is incorrect.

  4. Maxcrat says:

    Hmmm…you mean the same Lee Hamilton who gave the Iran-Contra gang a pass? Easier to make such bold statements when you’re not in position to actually do anything about it, I guess.

  5. CTuttle says:

    From McClatchy… Senators seek to reform spying

    Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Mark Udall, D-Colo., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., announced joint legislation that would require extensive reforms in Foreign Intelligence law.

    The legislation, which Wyden called the “most comprehensive, bipartisan intelligence reform proposal since the disclosures of last June”, would outlaw dragnet collection of email and telephone metadata, close the hotly-contested “backdoor search” provision of section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and add a constitutional advocate to the secret FISA court.

  6. GKJames says:

    Mendacity on the part of senior civil servants — unelected politicians, essentially — is, like hypocrisy, a coin of the realm. Substantially more troubling, not to mention depressing, is the lying done to the courts by members of the bar (who, naive as this may sound, do have a higher duty). Worse, the judges to whom they lie act as if they have no remedy. Why no criminal contempt proceeding or referral to the ethics committee of the local bar? One hears ad nauseam about the need for deterrence in connection with every other crime, but never with misconduct by government attorneys. Why?

  7. orionATL says:


    well said.

    at the federal government level, this is an absolutely critical problem today.

    federal lawyers apper to be expected and authorized to lie and deceive the courts and the public.

    suggesting sanctions for doing so, it seems, is gauche or do-goodish.

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