Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last week, presented succinctly and forcefully the case that senior officials overseeing the US government’s mass spying program have relied on “secret interpretations of the law” and “years of misleading and deceptive statements…to the American people.” Wyden proceeds to question witnesses James R. Clapper, John O. Brennan, and James B. Comey, Jr.—the directors, respectively, of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, and Federal Bureau of Investigation—regarding the mass spying and the “culture of misinformation” surrounding it.
Read below, from Wyden’s Senate website, Wyden’s introductory comments and watch below a video of Wyden’s comments and his questioning of the witnesses.
The men and women of America’s intelligence agencies are overwhelmingly dedicated professionals and they deserve to have leadership that is trusted by the American people. Unfortunately, that trust has been seriously undermined by senior officials’ reckless reliance on secret interpretations of the law and battered by years of misleading and deceptive statements that senior officials made to the American people. These statements did not protect sources and methods that were useful in fighting terror. Instead they hid bad policy choices and violations of the liberties of the American people.
For example, the director of the NSA said publicly that the NSA doesn’t hold data on U.S. citizens. That was obviously untrue. Justice Department officials testified that section 215 of the Patriot Act is analogous to grand jury subpoena authority. And that deceptive statement was made on multiple occasions. Officials also suggested that the NSA doesn’t have the authority to read Americans’ emails without a warrant but the FISA court opinions declassified last August showed that wasn’t true either.
For purposes of trying to move this dialogue along, because I don’t think this culture of misinformation is going to be easily fixed, I’d like to get into several other areas where the government’s interpretation of the law is still unclear.
Clapper, in particular, seems less than forthcoming in his answers. Might he be trusting that the fix is in for implementing President Barack Obama’s smoke and mirrors reform of the mass spying? Indeed, Wyden warned in October that the US government’s intelligence leadership and their allies would pursue a fake reform course, explaining:
[W]e know in the months ahead we will be up against a “business-as-usual brigade”—made up of influential members of the government’s intelligence leadership, their allies in thinktanks and academia, retired government officials, and sympathetic legislators. Their game plan? Try mightily to fog up the surveillance debate and convince the Congress and the public that the real problem here is not overly intrusive, constitutionally flawed domestic surveillance, but sensationalistic media reporting. Their end game is ensuring that any surveillance reforms are only skin-deep.
Yet, the “business-as-usual-brigade” may not be invincible. As RPI Chairman and Founder Ron Paul notes, public opinion shifting against the mass spying may help bring about a victory of the American people over the status quo protecting politicians.