Director of National IntelligenceJames Clapper, the guy who lied to Congress, has admitted in an interview with the Daily Beast's Eli Lake that there's a problem with the NSA's massive surveillance of Americans. The problem isn't that he lied about it to Congress, or that or that the program might very well be unconstitutional. No, Clapper says, the problem was that the NSA didn't tell us all that we were being spied on.
In an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast, Clapper said the problems facing the U.S. intelligence community over its collection of phone records could have been avoided. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but I will. Had we been transparent about this from the outset right after 9/11—which is the genesis of the 215 program—and said both to the American people and to their elected representatives, we need to cover this gap, we need to make sure this never happens to us again, so here is what we are going to set up, here is how it’s going to work, and why we have to do it, and here are the safeguards… We wouldn’t have had the problem we had,” Clapper said.Well, yeah, some transparency would have been in order, particularly to the congressional committees conducting oversight over the agency. Not lying to those congressional committees would have been a damned good start, too. Presumably it's going to be all sunshine clarity from the NSA from now on. That aside, the indispensable Marcy Wheeler takes issue with one of Clapper's key assertions: that there was a "gap" in our intelligence collecting around 9/11.
“What did us in here, what worked against us was this shocking revelation,” he said, referring to the first disclosures from Snowden. If the program had been publicly introduced in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, most Americans would probably have supported it. “I don’t think it would be of any greater concern to most Americans than fingerprints. Well people kind of accept that because they know about it. But had we been transparent about it and say here’s one more thing we have to do as citizens for the common good, just like we have to go to airports two hours early and take our shoes off, all the other things we do for the common good, this is one more thing.”
[T]he claim there was a “gap” is erroneous and has been proven to be erroneous over and over. Moreover, that myth dates not to the days after 9/11, but to misrepresentations about the content of the 9/11 Commission report 3 years later. Note, too, that (as has happened with Inspector Generals reviews of the Boston Marathon attack) the Commission got almost no visibility into what NSA had against al Qaeda.Smart intelligence work and a functional intelligence system in which the NSA, CIA, FBI and State all played nicely with each other and shared the intelligence that they did indeed have at the time and acted up on it, the attack on 9/11 might well have been stopped. That should be as much a part of the discussion we're now having about national security as the dragnet collection of our data. At any rate, Clapper is at least getting his wish now, thanks to Snowden's revelations. We're having a national discussion about it.
More importantly, had NSA gone to the public with claims about gaps it did and didn’t have before 9/11, we would likely have talked not about providing NSA more authority to collect dragnets, but instead, about the responsibility of those who sat on intelligence that might have prevented 9/11.