James Clapper Says He Answered Senator Wyden in the ‘Least Untruthful Manner’ He Could Think Of

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James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, is still working on his explanation for why he told Senator Ron Wyden in March that the NSA does not wittingly "collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans." As we now know, the NSA does precisely that — metadata (but not content) from pretty much every phone call made in America is collected and stored.

On Thursday, Clapper claimed, "What I said was, the NSA does not voyeuristically pore through U.S. citizens' e-mails. I stand by that." Of course, that's not what he said, and everyone knows it, because video. So now Clapper says that he simply has a different definition of collect than most humans, and this defniition allowed him to answer in the "least untruthful manner." He admits that this explanation is probably "too cute by half."

ANDREA MITCHELL: Senator Wyden made quite a lot out of your exchange with him last March during the hearings. Can you explain what you meant when you said that there was not data collection on millions of Americans?

JAMES CLAPPER: 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. And again, to go back to my metaphor. What I was thinking of is looking at the Dewey Decimal numbers-- of those books in that metaphorical library-- to me, collection of U.S. persons' data would mean taking the book off the shelf and opening it up and reading it.

ANDREA MITCHELL: Taking the contents?

JAMES CLAPPER: Exactly. That's what I meant. Now--

ANDREA MITCHELL: You did not mean archiving the telephone numbers?

JAMES CLAPPER: No.

ANDREA MITCHELL: Let me ask you about the content--

JAMES CLAPPER: 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.

We'd say too cute by at least 85 percent.