An unapologetic James Clapper bristled at accusations of misconduct in front of a trade group today, announced that he intends to continue serving as national intelligence director through the rest of the Obama presidency, and released a new “National Intelligence Strategy” that includes a “Code of Ethics” that seems disconnected from the reality of intelligence collection as revealed by Edward Snowden.
Speaking in public, but in a friendly setting, Clapper mocked the notion of intelligence collection without risk, the potential for embarrassment or invasion of privacy. He snidely called it “Immaculate Collection.” (see NBC video.)
Clapper also confirmed a report that, in commemoration of Constitution Day, he led his staff this week in two separate “re-administrations” of the oath of office to the Constitution, which he characterized as a good bonding experience, rather than an urgently needed recommitment to observing the constitutional rights of Americans.
“While we’ve made mistakes, to be clear, the IC [intelligence community] never willfully violated the law,” he insisted.
And he complained bitterly of being “accused of lying to Congress.”
Clapper flat-out lied to Sen. Ron Wyden during a Senate hearing in March when he said the NSA does not wittingly “collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.”
Clapper has previously said he “responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful manner by saying no.”
On Thursday, he said he had been falsely accused of lying “because of a mistake and trying to answer on the spot a question about a specific classified program in an unclassified setting.”
His audience was made up mostly of contractors who do, or want to do, business with the intelligence community. One question from the audience: “You have a very supportive private sector in front of you. What is your most pressing need?”
Clapper said his people have failed to come up with ways to continue accessing critical intelligence without the sort of bulk data collection that was disclosed by Snowden.
“If you have ideas of how we can find the needles without having the haystacks, I’m all ears,” he said.
Asked if it was “possible to be an ethical whistleblower in the intelligence community,” Clapper said yes, with caveats. “The complication obviously for those in the intelligence community, for those who feel compelled to do so,” he said, is “doing so but not in a way that gratuitously compromises classified information.”
Clapper made much of the unclassified national security strategy’s opening section on ethics. Among those principles:
TRUTH. We seek the truth; speak truth to power; and obtain, analyze, and provide intelligence objectively.
LAWFULNESS. We support and defend the Constitution, and comply with the laws of the United States, ensuring that we carry out our mission in a manner that respects privacy, civil liberties, and human rights obligations.
INTEGRITY. We demonstrate integrity in our conduct, mindful that all our actions, whether public or not, should reflect positively on the Intelligence Community at large.
STEWARDSHIP. We are responsible stewards of the public trust; we use intelligence authorities and resources prudently, protect intelligence sources and methods diligently, report wrongdoing through appropriate channels; and remain accountable to ourselves, our oversight institutions, and through those institutions, ultimately to the American people.
Clapper also complained about what he called his “constrained budget,” which he said has required the intelligence community to be “more creative”. Clapper’s annual “black budget” is somehwere around $53 billion.
Decrying the effects of Congress’s budget sequestration, Clapper said: ”We have all these threats, and in the face of all that, well, gee, let’s cut intelligence. Make sense to you?”
Clapper says the lesson from the last 16 months is: “We do need to be more transparent.” But the closest he came to endorsing any genuine reform was his assertion that there are “hundreds of thousands” of people with security clearances who don’t actually work with classified material, but want the “prestige” or the convenience. “I’m on the warpath to reduce the number of security clearances,” he said.
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