It has been eight months since documents from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden first began to be published.
The first story involved a court order for Verizon that indicated the phone records of all of the telecommunications company’s customers were being collected by the NSA.
Director for National Intelligence James Clapper declared in an official statement on the DNI website, “The unauthorized disclosure of a top secret US court document threatens potentially long-lasting and irreversible harm to our ability to identify and respond to the many threats facing our nation.”
“Discussing programs like this publicly will have an impact on the behavior of our adversaries and make it more difficult for us to understand their intentions. Surveillance programs like this one are consistently subject to safeguards that are designed to strike the appropriate balance between national security interests and civil liberties and privacy concerns,” he later added.
But now, in an interview with The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake, Clapper said the following:
…”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.”…
Clapper’s admission that basic details on the existence of the program should not have been kept secret coupled with his regret that the NSA did not make the right decision to be a bit more open is another result of Snowden’s disclosures for which Snowden deserves credit. It is another argument for why he is a whistleblower.
This was one of the official talking points the NSA wanted to promote in the middle of June, which related to why the program had to remain entirely secret: “Those who wish to do us harm now know how we counter their actions; this has done irreversible harm to our nation’s security. Historically every time a capability is revealed, it has compromised sources and methods.”
There’s more to write about this interview Clapper gave to Lake (a journalist who is notorious for printing what unnamed/named government officials say to him without couching their quotes in any skepticism). Again, Clapper denies he lied about NSA surveillance. However, for the moment, consider how the fact that disclosures have been published for months and there has been a debate over surveillance practices and policies for months and how this has pushed officials to publicly state things that are completely antithetical to what they have historically believed.
(*Note: Clapper has not been simply voluntarily declassifying documents on the phone records collection program, as Lake leads readers to believe. The Electronic Frontier Foundation won a lawsuit and, since then, the documents have begun to be declassified.)