In March 2013, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was asked if the NSA collects “any type of data at all” on American people. His response:
“No sir ... we don’t have the capability,” said Clapper while under oath to Congress.
But recently, Clapper admitted in a letter sent to Congress that the NSA roams through phone, email and text messages without a search warrant. The letter proves that Clapper (albeit unconvincingly) lied to Congress and the American people.
In light of his admission, some believe that Clapper should not only be fired, but criminally prosecuted. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that Major League Baseball players were being criminally prosecuted for lying about using illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
Of course, the driving force to this admission was likely the confidential NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden last summer. It’s unlikely that Mr. Clapper’s guilty conscience moved him to come clean.
By now, most of us know that Internet privacy is a thing of the past, if it even existed in the first place. The NSA justifies its surveillance practices by saying that it helps them catch terrorists before they have the opportunity to strike.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the Patriot Act granted government permission to essentially spy on suspected terrorists. But the NSA has not only kept a watchful eye on “suspected” terrorists, they’ve also monitored the digital behavior of anyone who knows someone that knows someone who knows someone that might be a terrorist.
If you’re an avid LinkedIn user, a simple way to think of it is that if you’re a third degree connection with a suspected terrorist, you’re being tracked.
However, Snowden claimed in his German TV interview that this type of surveillance has never stopped any terrorist plots and the NSA’s surveillance programs are not only intrusive, but expensive. The NSA on the other hand, initially claimed to have “thwarted 54 terrorist attacks,” but that turned out to be a gross exaggeration if not another lie.
Furthermore, Snowden revealed seeing Clapper lie under oath to Congress was the breaking point that led him to leak the documents.
People can debate whether or not the NSA’s surveillance tactics are necessary to keep people safe. But no one can question that Clapper lied to Congress and the entire world. One of the many dilemmas we’re left with is whether Clapper should be prosecuted.
To date, the Department of Justice hasn’t even initiated an investigation, so it seems unlikely that criminal charges are forthcoming. Rather than five years in prison per count of perjury, it looks like public humiliation will be the only repercussions that Clapper will face.