James Clapper is really sorry he willfully
misunderstood the question.
The Washington Post
has a good rundown
of the litany of "misleading, erroneous or simply false" statements from senior U.S. officials about the scope of the NSA's surveillance programs. Poster boy for administration liars is Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who has written to the Senate to apologize for lying under oath to them when he told them point-blank the NSA wasn't collecting data on millions of Americans, even though it wasn't really his fault.
Acknowledging the "heated controversy" over his remark, Clapper sent a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 21 saying that he had misunderstood the question he had been asked.
"I have thought long and hard to re-create what went through my mind at the time," Clapper said in the previously undisclosed letter. "My response was clearly erroneous—for which I apologize." [...]
He made a new attempt to explain the exchange in his June 21 correspondence, which included a hand-written note to Wyden saying that an attached letter was addressed to the committee chairman but that he "wanted [Wyden] to see this first."
Clapper said he thought Wyden was referring to NSA surveillance of e-mail traffic involving overseas targets, not the separate program in which the agency is authorized to collect records of Americans’ phone calls that include the numbers and duration of calls but not individuals’ names or the contents of their calls.
Plausible? Hardly. Sen. Wyden (D-OR) submitted the question
to Clapper's office the day before the hearing. Clapper had ample time to prepare for the question, and to ask Wyden for any necessary clarification. Additionally, of course, in his question Wyden didn't differentiate between the cell phone data collection program (under section 215 of the Patriot Act) and the NSA's internet surveillance program (under section 702). His question
was broad: "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" We now know, thanks to the leak of information by Edward Snowden and the subsequent declassification and public statements from the administration, that the NSA definitely does collect that data.
Clapper's answer was a lie, and that's supposed to be a felony offense. If we had a Congress that actually conducted oversight, it might still be.