the least untruthful national security state

On March 12, 2012, Senator Ron Wyden asked a simple question that didn’t surprise Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. He got it the day before he testified in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and after he was done, Senator Wyden and his staff gave him the option to “amend” his answer if he wanted to. Wyden wanted to know if the National Security Agency collected “any kind of information about millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” Wyden already knew the right answer to the question because he was on that committee and had access to some secret intelligence information. Clapper answered, even though he had a day to get ready “No, sir. Not on purpose. There may be times when they might accidentally collect, but not on purpose.”

That was a straight-up lie, but Clapper later said it was the “least false” thing he could say. We now know that among other things, the NSA was collecting and storing the “data” from every American’s phone calls. In other words, the director lied after giving it some thought.
Mind you, Clapper isn’t shy about accusing other people of crimes they didn’t do. In recent testimony to Congress, he asked whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden “and his accomplices” to return all agency documents. It was a shocking way to use a word that can only mean criminal, and it was clear that it was meant to refer to the journalists who have been looking at the Snowden documents and writing about them. This includes Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and reporters from the Guardian, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, among others.

It showed a bit of the arrogance of the top officials who run Washington’s national security state, and it’s not hard to see why they feel bold and demanding. Clapper is not only not going to be charged with lying, but he has also kept his job without blinking an eye. He still has the “support” of President Obama, who recently told CNN’s Jake Tapper (in what passes for a rebuke of our spy-in-chief these days): “Jim Clapper himself would acknowledge, and has acknowledged, that he should have been more careful about how he responded.” More careful indeed!

I’ve been saying for a long time that while we, as U.S. citizens, live in a legal America, the U.S. national security state exists in a “post-legal America” because no illegal act, from spying on people without a warrant to torturing them, done in its service will ever be prosecuted. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Clapper won’t even be fired for lying to Congress. He’s as free as a bird and still very strong. Tell that to some of the people who tell us the truth.

In his most recent post, “Selling Your Secrets,” CorpWatch’s Pratap Chatterjee gives a breakdown of a world of surveillance that gets more powerful and cocky with every passing moment and technological advance. This is a world of national security that has no limits to how far it wants to go around the world.

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