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Clapper: Gov’t should have been transparent about phone record collection

Clapper: Gov’t should have been transparent about phone record collection

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)


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Yes. People are always perfectly willing to have their rights trampled if you just tell them it’s for their own good first.

Wait. I meant that sarcastically but suddenly I’m not so sure it wouldn’t work!

Now, that’s accountability.
Clapper can go back to work and we can all feel better.
See how easy that was.
(Consequences? Never mind.)

It’s not like Clapper was empowered to let us know this himself, at least according to Clapper, so whose responsibility was it? Hmm. The President perhaps?


I’m not much of an Obama plan, but I can imagine the howls of rage at him for voluntarily disclosing data collection said to be critical to national security. It’s not like Obama was sitting in front of Congress and expected to answer questions under oath.

Wait, that didn’t work either. Well, his point is that someone in the federal government not named James Clapper should have, you know, said something. It’s not like it’s his fault or anything.

“how the program may have been received differently had general information about it been shared with the public from the outset.”

I would have just been PO’d a lot sooner.

    Anchovy in reply to StanW. | February 18, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    Especially if there happened to be a Republican in office when the information was shared with the public.

When a government official has to think hard about whether it is a good idea to tell the truth to Congress, all it really implies is that it’s time for that official to go.

Clapper, in particular, is more than a bit of an idiot. A year or so ago he stated that the Muslim Brotherhood was a secular organization and not associated with radical Islam at all (or words to that effect: I don’t have the quote handy). Someone that dim has no place in a position of responsibility.

    Henry Hawkins in reply to Henry Bowman. | February 18, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    James Clapper, Feb 2011:

    “The term ‘Muslim Brotherhood’…is an umbrella term for a variety of movements, in the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam,” Clapper said. “They have pursued social ends, a betterment of the political order in Egypt, et cetera…..In other countries, there are also chapters or franchises of the Muslim Brotherhood, but there is no overarching agenda, particularly in pursuit of violence, at least internationally.”

    Precisely my point.
    They are called consequences. None of these people are irreplaceable. He can be replaced in a heartbeat.

The Metadata program isn’t even the most egregious thing they do, but it’s a perfect example of a program that only catches innocent activity or the careless and dumb. Another program like that, and much more worrisome for all of us, is NSA’s deliberate sabotage program. One example of this is encryption standard sabotage.

In the 90’s, NSA lobbied Congress to regulate the types of encryption that could be used. After running straight into First Amendment concerns, their efforts failed, and all that came out of it was NIST published some voluntary encryption standards, most of which were pretty good. But NSA couldn’t stand that, and so they presented a weak encryption standard to NIST and hid its weaknesses in reports, got NIST endorsement, and then privately promoted the standard to security firms in exchange for cash, hoping to make it the standard. RSA, one of the leading information security firms in the world, was one of those targets, and they were trusted by Fortune 500 firms everywhere.

Of course, almost everyone with any real interest in security already knew the NIST standards were vulnerable even before Snowden revealed what the NSA had done and NIST issued its warning to stop using it to encrypt sensitive data. No terrorist, drug dealer, or other criminal worth their salt used it. My then 15-year-old cousin knew to avoid it (and a bunch of other common computer programs and services that claimed to be safe, but were later revealed to be compromised by NSA) when buying pot online. This stuff doesn’t catch real criminals. But it does make it easier for Russian hackers to breach POS systems, as happened recently with Target.

Makes you wonder, if this stuff can be avoided by a pot-smoking 15 year old, what is the real goal of making the American public writ large use less secure systems?