I don’t believe government officials when they say the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs do not invade our privacy. The record suggests that you shouldn’t believe them, either.
It pains me to sound like some Rand Paul acolyte. I promise I’m not wearing a tinfoil hat or scanning the leaden sky for black helicopters. I just wish our government would start treating us like adults — more important, like participants in a democracy — and stop lying. We can handle the truth.
The starkest lie came in March at a Senate intelligence committee hearing, when Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper a simple question: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper replied, “No, sir.” As we’ve learned from former NSA analyst Edward Snowden, Clapper’s answer was patently false. The agency collects metadata — essentially, a detailed log — of many and perhaps all of our domestic phone calls.
Lying to Congress is a serious offense; baseball legend Roger Clemens was tried — and acquitted — on criminal charges for allegedly lying about steroid use at a congressional hearing. The chance that Clapper will face similar peril, however, is approximately zero.
Following Snowden’s revelations, Clapper said that an honest answer to Wyden’s question would have required him to divulge highly classified secrets, so he gave the “least untruthful” answer he could come up with. Clapper apparently believes that “least” is a synonym for “most.” In a recent letter to the intelligence committee, Clapper said he thought Wyden was asking about the content of domestic communications — which the NSA says it does not collect “wittingly,” for what that’s worth — rather than about the metadata.