Obama Team Stonewalls Democrat on Spying Questions

Ron Wyden pushed for specific answers from Intelligence Director James Clapper and others, but failed to get any details.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 29: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies during a hearing before Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee January 29, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on 'Current and Projected National Security Threats Against the United States.' (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
National Journal
Jack Fitzpatrick
Jan. 29, 2014, 8:27 a.m.

Ron Wyden wanted dir­ect an­swers on gov­ern­ment spy­ing pro­grams dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee hear­ing. He didn’t get many.

Dir­ect­or of In­tel­li­gence James Clap­per, CIA Dir­ect­or John Bren­nan, and FBI Dir­ect­or James Comey largely avoided giv­ing de­tails on the agen­cies’ spy­ing activ­it­ies, in­stead prom­ising to provide more in­form­a­tion as soon as pos­sible. In sev­er­al cases, Wyden gave dead­lines for them to an­swer his ques­tions.

Wyden, an Ore­gon Demo­crat, is a vo­cal crit­ic of the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s pro­gram of gath­er­ing the phone data of mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans. He also has a his­tory of ask­ing poin­ted ques­tions, and even of hint­ing at NSA activ­it­ies in his ques­tions. In a March 2013 hear­ing, be­fore Ed­ward Snowden re­vealed de­tails of the NSA’s mass har­vest­ing of phone-call metadata, Wyden asked Clap­per if the NSA gath­ers “any type of data at all on mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans.” Clap­per answered “no,” which Wyden later said was mis­lead­ing.

At Wed­nes­day’s hear­ing, Wyden asked Bren­nan if the Com­puter Fraud and Ab­use Act, which bans hack­ing in­to private com­puters, ap­plies to the CIA. Bren­nan said he did not know, and prom­ised to an­swer with­in a week.

Wyden also asked Clap­per to provide with­in 30 days a spe­cif­ic ex­ample of a phone re­cord the NSA needed that was so old that the phone com­pany no longer had it. Data-col­lec­tion ad­voc­ates have in­sisted that it is ne­ces­sary for the NSA to store data it­self for the pur­pose of speedy ac­cess, rather than mak­ing in­di­vidu­al re­quests to phone com­pan­ies.

And Wyden asked FBI Dir­ect­or James Comey to an­swer with­in a week wheth­er there is any leg­al dif­fer­ence between ac­cess­ing phone-re­cord in­form­a­tion by us­ing cell-phone towers and us­ing smart­phone apps.

Wyden cri­ti­cized the “cul­ture of mis­in­form­a­tion” at the NSA, say­ing agency Dir­ect­or Keith Al­ex­an­der and oth­ers have pur­pose­fully neg­lected to act trans­par­ently. Wyden ex­pressed even more frus­tra­tion when Clap­per, Bren­nan, and Comey prom­ised to an­swer ques­tions later.

“This com­mit­tee can’t do over­sight if we can’t get dir­ect an­swers,” Wyden said.

Al­though the three some­what dodged ques­tions on the spe­cif­ics of spy­ing activ­it­ies, Clap­per railed against the gen­er­al nature of Ed­ward Snowden’s leaks on NSA sur­veil­lance pro­grams, call­ing them “the most massive and most dam­aging theft of in­tel­li­gence in our na­tion’s his­tory.”

He also called on Snowden to re­turn any more doc­u­ments that he has not yet re­leased. “The na­tion is less safe and its people less se­cure,” be­cause of the Snowden leaks, Clap­per said.

But Clap­per did vow to op­er­ate the NSA in a more open way, in­sist­ing that the pub­lic will ul­ti­mately sup­port most of the agency’s spy­ing activ­it­ies.

“We must lean in the dir­ec­tion of trans­par­ency, wherever and whenev­er we can,” Clap­per said.

What We're Following See More »
HE ‘WILL NEVER BE PRESIDENT’
Warren Goes After Trump Yet Again
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

When it comes to name-calling among America's upper echelon of politicians, there may be perhaps no greater spat than the one currently going on between Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump. While receiving an award Tuesday night, she continued a months-long feud with the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. Calling him a "small, insecure moneygrubber" who probably doesn't know three things about Dodd-Frank, she said he "will NEVER be president of the United States," according to her prepared remarks."We don't know what Trump pays in taxes because he is the first presidential nominee in 40 years to refuse to disclose his tax returns. Maybe he’s just a lousy businessman who doesn’t want you to find out that he’s worth a lot less money than he claims." It follows a long-line of Warren attacks over Twitter, Facebook and in interviews that Trump is a sexist, racist, narcissistic loser. In reply, Trump has called Warren either "goofy" or "the Indian"—referring to her controversial assertion of her Native American heritage. 

FIRST CHANGE IN FOUR DECADES
Congress Passes Chemical Regulations Overhaul
6 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The House on Tuesday voted 403-12 "to pass an overhaul to the nation’s chemical safety standards for the first time in four decades. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act aims to answer years of complaints that the Environmental Protection Agency lacks the necessary authority to oversee and control the thousands of chemicals being produced and sold in the United States. It also significantly clamps down on states’ authorities, in an effort to stop a nationwide patchwork of chemical laws that industry says is difficult to deal with."

Source:
NO MORE INDEPENDENT VOTERS?
GOP Could Double Number of Early Primaries
6 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Leaders of the Republican Party have begun internal deliberations over making fundamental changes to the way its presidential nominees are chosen, a recognition that the chaotic process that played out this year is seriously flawed and helped exacerbate tensions within the party." Among the possible changes: forbidding independent voters to cast ballots in Republican primaries, and "doubling the number of early states to eight."

Source:
LEVERAGE
Kasich Tells His Delegates to Remain Pledged to Him
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

Citing the unpredictable nature of this primary season and the possible leverage they could bring at the convention, John Kasich is hanging onto his 161 delegates. "Kasich sent personal letters Monday to Republican officials in the 16 states and the District of Columbia where he won delegates, requesting that they stay bound to him in accordance with party rules."

Source:
EFFECTIVE NEXT MONTH
House GOP Changes Rules for Spending Measures
8 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Speaker Paul Ryan is changing the rules of how the House will consider spending measures to try to prevent Democrats from offering surprise amendments that have recently put the GOP on defense. ... Ryan announced at a House GOP conference meeting Tuesday morning that members will now have to submit their amendments ahead of time so that they are pre-printed in the Congressional Record, according to leadership aides." The change will take effect after the Memorial Day recess.

Source:
×