James Clapper Confirms NSA Engages in Domestic Surveillance

In today’s threat hearing, Jim Langevin tried to get James Clapperto provider him with talkingp points he could use in radio interviews about the seriousness of the Snowden leaks. (39:15 and following)

One problem with that — as Clapper readily admitted — is that the Intelligence Community doesn’t know what Snowden has (in spite of their repeated leaked claims that he has 1.7 million documents).

Clapper: We don’t really know the full extent or the full impact of these revelations.

Langevin pressed, asking Clapper to quantify in some way what he had briefed the committee that the “vast majority of data that’s been stolen, that we’ve been able to assess to date, has had very little to do with just surveillance.”

Clapper hedged and hedged, until Langevin got him to say that “less than 10% of what Snowden might potentially have taken (but they don’t know one way or another) has to do with domestic surveillance.”

Clapper: That’s also difficult. I can just say that the vast vast majority of what has been potentially compromised — as I indicated in my oral statement — goes way way beyond the revelations about domestic surveillance which I was given to understand that was his primary concern. What he potentially — what he accessed, what he scraped, what he potentially made off with is, uh, transcends that. So it’s quite serious.

Langevin: Can you say–

Clapper: It’s hard pressed to ascribe a number.

Langevin: Can you give a, is it 10% or,

Clapper: I would say that probably less than 10% has to do with domestic surveillance.

Now, there’s a lot that’s telling about this exchange. I have noted months ago that the government would have been better served providing Snowden a way to cooperate with their investigation, as former actual spies would. But they chose to strand him in Russia, leaving them perpetually uncertain about what Snowden has and what the Russians might get, and therefore responding not just to what does get released, but to everything they think he might potentially have taken.

Then there’s Clapper’s suggestion that all Snowden might want to expose only “domestic surveillance.” The notion that US corruption of encryption standards, or US collection of US person data overseas, or Five Eyes creation of the architecture of tyranny (turnkey tyranny and architecture of oppression are terms Snowden has used), is not every bit as important as exposing the dragnet, he misunderstands the power of the dragnets he oversees.

But finally, there’s Clapper’s use of the term “domestic surveillance” (which in his opening statement he called “so-called domestic surveillance”) and his suggestion that less than 10% of Snowden’s leaks address it.

The NSA has been telling us for months and months they don’t engage in domestic surveillance.

James Clapper apparently admits they do.


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.

9 replies
  1. Anonsters says:

    I love you to death, recommend you to everyone, and hope you run for Congress, but that first paragraph needs help. :D

    Specifically: “…tried to get James Clapperto provider him with talkingp points….”

  2. Bitter Angry Drunk says:

    This could use an edit as well:

    “The notion that US corruption of encryption standards, or US collection of US person data overseas, or Five Eyes creation of the architecture of tyranny (turnkey tyranny and architecture of oppression are terms Snowden has used), is not every bit as important as exposing the dragnet, he misunderstands the power of the dragnets he oversees.”

    Should this whole thing start with an “if”?

  3. jo6pac says:

    Thanks, no really but amazing that so many are OK with this. I guess the so-called liberal press has done their job and should pat their own backs. The spin that never stops giving. The most corrupt govt. ever until the next one is in place. How sad for the citizens not only of this nation Amerika but for the citizens of the world.

    Thank You

  4. Mindrayge says:

    At this point the NSA has to know what servers held the various released documents. Moreso, considering that we have also seen newletter snippets, IG drafts, FISA orders, e-mail responses, AG memo, etc. The places where these were stored are rather limited – in particular the FISA orders. While I still think Snowden has the contents of an e-mail server, with the exit of Alexander the likelihood that he has Alexander’s personal stash has gone up. Snowden simply wouldn’t have had the time to go looking for things of interest without drawing attention to himself. If he wasn’t getting all of his assignments done (because he was trolling for documents) he would have been caught. Plus, the NSA is very anal about keeping their networks secure and making sure that various classified files could only travel across networks with the same classification so he would still have had difficulty pulling anything across the wires without being nabbed by network monitoring outside of his control or access levels e.g. stuff controlled out of Fort Meade.

    There are many more shoes to drop. The question is, will enough of them drop that will make a difference before the clock runs out on Snowden? Once Russia gives him the boot the US is very likely to get him and after that it will be all about his prosecution. If not enough drop all we will end up with is a few reporters getting best selling books, perhaps a documentary or three, and Snowden sitting in a prison for life.

  5. HotFlash says:

    And Edward Snowden has repeatedly said that he no longer has the documents, he said so again in the recent interview with German TV ARD (sorry, cannot link as it disappears and reappears unpredictably). He said that he had passed the information he has to journalists who will decide what is in the public interest. He refused to answer some questions b/c the information had not been made public and that he would, therefore, be releasing classified information, which he did not want to do. My take on that is that, he having seen that information about the government behaving illegally was not usefully released to any of the three branches of government, chose, like Chelsea Manning, to release it to that *other* constitutionally-described institution of the public interest, the press.

  6. Jeff Kaye says:

    Ha ha ha.

    Great catch!!

    Now if only someone could get Brennan to say less than 10% (or whatever it is) of CIA’s budget goes towards domestic surveillance.

Comments are closed.