The Director of National Intelligence indicated Monday that the federal government probably should have been more transparent in the first place about its collection of phone records.

In an interview with the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake, James Clapper reflected on how the program may have been received differently had general information about it been shared with the public from the outset.

From the Daily Beast, Spy Chief: We Should’ve Told You We Track Your Calls:

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.

“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.”

It’s difficult to know whether or not the American public would have accepted the program as another security necessity.  But I’d agree that a more extensive public debate about the general nature of the program probably would have been more productive at the outset.

As we know now, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked details about the program last year, though some of the information was not new, as others had reported similar revelations previously.  But the disclosures from Snowden were not limited to the phone metadata program or even to domestic surveillance.

Clapper has since declassified and released some of the telephone metadata collection documents (some with redactions), including several in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

Read the full Daily Beast article.

(Featured image: C-SPAN video)