When DNI James Clapper was asked if the NSA was collecting millions of Americans’ information, he answered “no.” In retrospect, he described his answer as a “least untruth” and “too cute by half.” His answer, he explained to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, was rooted in a legal definition of the word ‘collected.’ Imagining the information swept up in the surveillance dragnet as a library full of books, he explained:
“To me,” he said, “collection of U.S. persons’ data would mean taking the book off the shelf and opening it up and reading it.”
So in Clapper’s legalese, stealing the books and putting them in the library isn’t ‘collecting’ them; ‘collection’ only occurs when a book in that library is subsequently taken off the shelf and read. As absurd as this sounds to the rest of us, the administration came to Clapper’s defense:
The White House on Tuesday came to the defense of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, after a senator blasted the intelligence official for failing to give “straight answers” on the government surveillance of Americans.
President Obama “certainly believes that Director Clapper has been straight and direct in the answers he’s given” Congress, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday, adding that Clapper has been “aggressive in providing as much information as possible to the American people, to the press.”
Now, to me, this is where it gets extremely interesting. Flash back to Obama saying this:
“Nobody is listening to your telephone calls.”
Using Clapper’s analogy, it is critical to note that Obama did not say the content of our phone calls is not being swept up and stored in their library; just that nobody is pulling it off the shelf.
This is reinforced by the words of whistleblower William Binney, who has said that the content of our phone calls is indeed being intercepted and stored. And I wholeheartedly expect that in revelations to come there will be proof of Binney’s claims.
Is it any wonder, then, that the administration came to Clapper’s defense? What other choice did they have?
Because when that happens, Obama, too, will have to lean on precisely the same “least untruth, “too cute by half” defense for his statement.
Update: I wonder if his claim that nobody’s listening is reassuring for soldiers stationed overseas and their families.
(Edited for clarity 3:08pm)