Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) was clear when he asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in March 2013 if the NSA collected information on American citizens: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” While it didn’t seem so at the time, Clapper’s reply was fateful. “No sir. Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.” A few weeks after that hearing, Edward Snowden would leak that, yes, the NSA was deliberately scraping the metadata of pretty much all the phone records in the U.S. Ever since, Clapper has defended himself from accusations that he lied to Congress. On Friday, his general counsel, Robert Litt, said Clapper simply forgot about the program. “This was not an untruth or a falsehood,” he said. “This was just a mistake on his part. We all make mistakes.” Based on the question Wyden posed to Clapper, this excuse is weak. This is not the first time that America’s clandestine services have mislead and spied on the very people overseeing them. Congress should keep this in mind as they deliberate whether and how to reauthorize the Patriot Act.
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