Meet James Clapper. He’s the Director of National Intelligence for the United States. He is also a liar. He lied to Congress about the nature of NSA surveillance. When given the opportunity to correct that lie, he lied again. He lied to the public about the efficacy of NSA surveillance in protecting the country.
He lied so successfully that California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who thought that she was his friend, declared, “there is no more direct or honest person than Jim Clapper”. At the time that she said that, Clapper’s agencies were misleading Feinstein about the extent of NSA surveillance of foreign governments.
Clapper oversees an agency which has repeatedly—and in some cases very deliberately—broken the law. He oversees an intelligence network which works hard to evade accountability and frustrate the efforts of those who seek to introduce accountability into its operations. He oversees a national security apparatus which wields Fear as its primary weapon...not against our “enemies”, but against the very public it is meant to protect.
Now he is telling us that Edward Snowden, the individual who disclosed the lying, prying, and lawbreaking of the NSA caused “profound damage” to the United States. Can he tell us what damage Snowden’s revelations did? Of course not. His unsubstantiated smears were backed up by the contemptible head of the Defence Intelligence Agency, Lt. General Michael Flynn, who speculated basely that revelations about NSA activities would result in deaths on “tomorrow’s battlefield”. Could he explain why that would be the case? Of course not.
Why we should trust people who we know to be liars and lawbreakers remains unclear. As does the purpose of hearings in which these people, instead of being put on the rack for their lying and lawbreaking, are permitted to sling unsubstantiated accusations.
In theory, the security state exists to serve the public. But this is not how Clapper and his colleagues look at it. To them, the public is an adversary, to be misled, frustrated, and subjected to scrutiny and suspicion. To them, democracy is not something to be treasured and cultivated, but rather a quaint impediment to the fearful, paranoid world in which they insist we live.
Without the revelations about the activities of Clapper’s agencies, we would not be having this debate about what is fundamental to the survival of any democratic society: the appropriate balance between liberty and security. Many people are not so much troubled by what the NSA was doing as they were by the fact that Clapper and others created the architecture for this massive spying system in secrecy and without sufficient mechanisms of accountability. And then lied about its existence.
Clapper did not want us to have this debate. In fact, he worked very hard to try to prevent it.
President Obama left this very important question unanswered when he announced his half-hearted reforms of the U.S. intelligence network: Why does he continue to employ a liar like Clapper who enabled lawbreaking and manifests such open contempt for the rules governing a democratic society? Clapper’s presence at hearings like the one today are a gross insult to the public and a reminder that a great deal of work needs to be done before the national security state is brought to heel after a decade of extraordinary and unforgivable excesses, excesses which were made possible by the likes of James Clapper.