I’m not saying Congress is doing a great job, but they would still be doing nothing if Edward Snowden hadn’t decided to blow the whistle. This interesting piece by NPR (“The Challenge Of Keeping Tabs On The NSA’s Secretive Work.”) contains an amazing admission about how Snowden empowered Congress:
Again and again, the leadership of the intelligence community has said one thing in public and done quite another in private,” laments Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who’s also on the Senate intelligence panel.
Wyden says he knew some years ago that the NSA was using a secret legal interpretation of the USA Patriot Act to scoop up Americans’ personal data without a warrant. But because the program was classified, Wyden was severely limited in what he could say about it publicly.
“It, in my view, was really impossible to carry out my duties,” he says, “so for months and months, I tried to engage with Director [of National Intelligence James] Clapper to get some straight answers about these statements that were made in public.”
The opportunity to question the nation’s top spy in public came last year at a hearing in March. It was two months before Snowden’s revelations, and the exchange between the senator and the intelligence chief would soon become a part of that saga as well.
“If you could give me a yes or no answer to the question,” Wyden asked Clapper at an open Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, “does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”
“No, sir,” Clapper replied.
“It does not?” asked Wyden.
“Not wittingly,” answered Clapper.
Though Wyden knew Clapper’s answer was not correct [i.e. a public lie to the American people—M.H.], he could not say anything at the time because the program remained secret. But when Snowden’s revelations about the NSA went public, Clapper was pressed about the answer he’d given Wyden. He called it “the least untruthful” statement he could have made about the secret program. Later, Clapper wrote Congress to say the answer he’d given to Wyden’s question had been “clearly erroneous.” [i.e. a lie]
So basically Congress could do nothing until Edward Snowden smashed the laws that made the information classified. While I’m sure Wyden meant well, let’s honestly face what he was doing: Until Edward Snowden spoke up, he was helping James Clapper deceive the American people. He pretended to ask a question that he did not know the answer to and he pretended to not have knowledge that Clapper was lying through his teeth.
Some democracy. If it wasn’t for Snowden the lie would still be the official truth.