A top U.S. intelligence chief said he stands by his Senate testimony that the National Security Agency does not collect data on Americans.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s comments in March that the NSA does not “wittingly” collect data on Americans have been called into question following the bombshell report that the government has been secretly collecting the phone records of millions of Americans.
“What I said was, the NSA does not voyeuristically pore through U.S. citizens’ emails. I stand by that,” Clapper told the National Journal.
Clapper had been asked directly whether the NSA collects “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.”
“No sir,” Clapper told Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect but not wittingly.” He did not say he was specifically referring to email.
Clapper’s testimony on March 12 was one month before the date of the secret court order obtained by The Guardian mandating telecommunications company Verizon turn over information on all phone calls in its systems to the NSA on an “ongoing, daily basis” between April 25 and July 19.
But lawmakers said Thursday that the phone record collecting has been happening for years, and that the order is renewed by the FISA court every three months.
Wyden has been a leading voice in the Senate in opposing government domestic surveillance, and drew attention to Clapper’s previous answer to him on Thursday.
The NSA has not commented on collecting the phone records, though the White House on Thursday called such actions a “critical tool in protecting the nation from terror threats.”