Its been shown all over the news media: last year, NSA Director James Clapper was asked point blank by senator Ron Wyden of Oregon testifying in front of a senate committee if the United States was collecting information wholesale on American citizens ("tens of millions or hundreds of millions of Americans" was the way it was asked). Clapper answered "no". Then added, "not wittingly" as if it could ever be in the realm of possibility that the NSA could gather information on hundreds of millions of Americans by accident.
Clapper today tries to defend what is nothing less than out and out perjury in front of a congressional committee by saying he answered in "the least untruthful manner possible".
That's not good enough. Clapper's answer was completely untruthful.
From the beginning of the creation of the country it's been a point made over and over by the Founders and those who followed that this is a country of laws not men. And the 14th amendment to the constitution says all laws must be applied equally to everyone.
Clapper lied to the senate committee, a congressional committee that represents the citizens of the United States. It is not good enough to say there were secret national security issues involved that could not or should not be made public. There are remedies for that. Its called Executive Session.
Congress often goes into Executive session or closed session when having certain witnesses testify about national security matters that in the national interest are best kept from the public at large. But not from members of congress. Clapper could have found some way to say that if they wanted to ask question regarding intelligence gathering of any kind by the NSA since one question can lead to another, its best to ask those questions in executive session.
Clapper didn't. Clapper decided right then and there that the best course of action was to lie, to perjure himself before the people's representatives,a committee that had legal oversight over what Clapper and the NSA was doing, rather than do what he was required to do by law which was tell the truth.
The irony and the hypocrisy is that Clapper, who broke U.S. laws by lying to congress now has his defenders in congress and in the news media who are the same people attacking Snowden for breaking U.S. laws and calling him a traitor for breaking those laws.
We are now hearing people like Jeff Toobin, Peter King, Dianne Feinstein and others in and out of the news media call Snowden a criminal because he took an oath and violated it. But so did Clapper. Which makes him as much of a law breaker as Snowden.
The argument against Snowden made by many including King and Toobin was that Snowden had other avenues without having to go to the press, things like going to the Inspector General and/or members of congress. But Clapper had other avenues too besides committing perjury. He could have asked for an executive or closed session.
It should become a question of national debate as much as the surveillence program itself as to whether the country wants to accept the hypocrisy of Rep. Peter King and others who share his opinion, who said of Clapper's perjury in an interview with Anderson Cooper, "he was in an unwinnable position answering the question". Didn't Snowden think he was in an unwinnable position in his feeling that the NSA surveillance went over the line? And wasn't Snowden aware that the head of the agency at the heart of his concerns had openly committed perjury to a congressional committee with impunity and seemingly without concern for personal consequences on the very question and issue Snowden was concerned about? What kind of confidence would that give Snowden that his concerns would be taken seriously? And as pointed out before, Clapper had other avenues open to him besides perjury. As chair of a congressional committee King knows that better than anyone.
These same people pontificating about what Snowden should have done instead of going to the press, ( it should be noted that congress has passed laws that specifically do NOT give whistle blower protetion to a non-government employee like Snowden), have nothing to say about what Clapper should have done when questioned under oath. Like request executive session instead of choosing perjury.
In the end, by his perjury Clapper probably reaped what he sowed by Snowden going to the press ( and the foreign press at that) rather than go through channels.
If Clapper isn't indicted for perjury, if the laws are not going to apply to him the same way they'd be applied to anyone else lying to congress, then it all becomes a mockery of the law, which in some ways, is the issue involving the Obama administration and the NSA in the first place over the wide net gathering of information on every citizen. Even more than that, Clapper's perjury gives people more reason than ever not to trust that people like Clapper, the person in charge of the NSA wont violate other laws in the future as well.
Its not enough to say Clapper's lie was well intentioned. Snowden's disclosures were, as far as he was concerned, well intentioned also. Snowden has been called a criminal by Peter King and others because he took an oath and then violated that oath. So did Clapper. Clapper took an oath to tell the truth and perjured himself to a congressional oversight committee whose function was to make sure government agencies and the president himself does not go beyond the bounds of the law or the constitution. A case can be made that as far as Americans' freedoms are concerned, what Clapper did was a far worse crime than anything Snowden did. In fact that there is no evidence that anything Snowden revealed has damaged the country at all.
Senator Dianne Feinstein sounding like a member of the Nixon Administration called what Snowden did treason, as did John Boehner, the kind of over reaching, almost preposterous statement that seems to coincide with the over reaching NSA collection of information of which she approves. Re Mike Rogers added his name to the ignorance. It shows once again that we have members of congress who don't have a clue as to what the law really is and who just throw words around for political effect with the same recklessness with which they accuse Snowden since treason has a very specific and narrow definition which is something only applied to someone aiding an enemy with whom the United States is at war. That we have members of congress who are also known as lawmakers who have no idea what the law actually is is verges on the political slapstick. And it is starting to look like Snowden has exposed more than what the NSA was doing -- it's exposing ignorance and hypocrisy in congress and in the media.
Rep. Peter King sounded like he just woke up from a ten year sleep when asked what damage Snowden's disclosures caused. He said, incredibly, "now Al-Qaeda knows we are spying on them and monitoring their phone calls."
Really? Now they know? Like they didn't know this for the last 12 years?
The only people who didn't know what the NSA was doing with their phone records were the barbers and tailors and lawyers and cab drivers and farmers and social workers and teachers and clearly many members of congress in places like Iowa, New York, California, Nebraska, and Mississippi, not Al-Qaeda. They knew.
All this is not to say Clapper is a bad man. Or evil. It is to say he broke the law. And Clapper needs to be held accountable for that like any other citizen. Otherwise the entire rule of law, and the laws that supposedly underpin the activities of the NSA in the first place and any trust in these government officials to follow the law will lose all credibility. If they haven't already.