Director of National Intelligence apologizes for his ‘clearly erroneous’ NSA testimony

Updated
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee April 18, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (File photo by Win...
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee April 18, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (File photo by Win...
Win McNamee

As the Snowden leak scandal continues to unravel, the director of National Intelligence is trying to set the record straight on controversial National Security Agency programs.

In a letter sent to Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein, James Clapper apologized for a “clearly erroneous” response given during his March 12 testimony over NSA data-collection. The letter was made public Tuesday, but was originally dated June 21, 2013.

He explained his incorrect response on the surveillance tactics, recently exposed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, in his exchange with Sen. Ron Wyden.

Wyden questioned Clapper about “dossiers,” and asked point blank, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

“No sir,” responded Clapper at the time.

In his letter, Clapper said he thought “long and hard” about what was going through his head at the time, recreating their conversation. An excerpt of the letter reads:

In reference to Senator Wyden’s reference to “dossiers” and faced with the challenge of trying to give an unclassified answer about our intelligence collection activities, many of which are classified, I simply didn’t think of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Instead my answer addressed collection of the content of communications. I focused instead on Section 702 of FISA, because we had just been through a year-long campaign to seek re-authorization of this provision, and had had many classified discussions about it, including with Senator Wyden. That is why I added a comment about “inadvertent” collection of U.S. person information, because that is what happens under Section702 even though it is targeted at foreigners.

That said, I realized later that Senator Wyden was asking about Section 215 metadata collection, rather than content collection. Thus, my response was clearly erroneous–for which I apologize. While my staff acknowledged the error to Senator Wyden’s staff soon after the hearing, I can now correct it because the existence of the metadata collection program has been declassified.


At the bottom of the note, he added that he takes all of his appearances in front of congressional hearings “seriously.” He acknowledged, “mistakes will happen,” and when they do, vowed to correct it.

The United States formally charged former defense contractor Edward Snowden with espionage. He is thought to be in Moscow but his whereabouts are unknown, and he has so far failed to find asylum.

Director of National Intelligence apologizes for his 'clearly erroneous' NSA testimony

Updated