August 19, 2013
It was Senator Wyden who famously asked Director of Intelligence James Clapper last March, before the Snowden revelations, whether the NSA collected “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” Clapper’s response was pretty clear: “No, Sir.” When pressed, Clapper amended his answer to “not wittingly.” He later told NBC News that he had given the “least untruthful” answer he could think of. He should have done what previous officials have long done and said he could fully respond only in a closed session. At least one of our top intelligence officials doesn’t display intelligence as often as he should.
Other top officials have made such a hash of explaining each new NSA revelation that even staunch national-security conservatives are beginning to wonder what else we don’t know. “The proper response to the latest revelation is not panic but deep frustration and a demand for data that does more than get the NSA through a news cycle,” writes Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post’s conservative blogger. “It must be more forthcoming, or it will lose its mandate.”
In 1999, then-senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote Secrecy: The American Experience, in which he analyzed the parallel growth of secrecy and bureaucracy in the U.S. “Secrecy is a form of regulation,” he warned. “At times, in the name of national security, secrecy has put that very security in harm’s way.” He observed that although secrecy is absolutely necessary for our protection, it all too often serves as the first refuge of incompetents or those drunk with arrogance. We should not give these groups the ability to cloak their operations — no matter how virtuous the goal.