The Washington Post reports: Lawmakers tasked with overseeing national security policy say a pattern of misleading testimony by senior Obama administration officials has weakened Congress’s ability to rein in government surveillance.
Members of Congress say officials have either denied the existence of a broad program that collects data on millions of Americans or, more commonly, made statements that left some lawmakers with the impression that the government was conducting only narrow, targeted surveillance operations.
The most recent example came on March 12, when James R. Clapper, director of national intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the government was not collecting information about millions of Americans. He later acknowledged that the statement was “erroneous” and apologized, citing a misunderstanding.
On three occasions since 2009, top Justice Department officials said the government’s ability to collect business records in terrorism cases is generally similar to that of law enforcement officials during a grand jury investigation. That comparison, some lawmakers now say, signaled to them that data was being gathered on a case-by-case basis, rather than the records of millions of Americans’ daily communications being vacuumed up in bulk.
In addition, two Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee say that even in top-secret briefings, officials “significantly exaggerated” the effectiveness of at least one program that collected data on Americans’ e-mail usage.
The administration’s claims are being reexamined in light of disclosures by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, reported by The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper, of broad government surveillance of Americans’ Internet and phone use authorized under secret interpretations of law.
At least two Republican lawmakers have called for the removal of Clapper, who denied the widespread surveillance of Americans while under questioning by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and issued his apology after the surveillance programs became public two months later.
A letter to Clapper sent two weeks ago from 26 senators from both parties complained about a series of statements from senior officials that “had the effect of misleading the public” and that will “undermine trust in government more broadly.” [Continue reading…]