Clapper on NSA Congress comments: "I gave the least untruth"

Earlier this year, the intelligence director said the NSA does not collect information on millions of Americans

Published June 12, 2013 1:08PM (EDT)

It has certainly become hackneyed to call the government Orwellian, but in this case it's unavoidable. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that he had given the "least untruthful" answer possible in March when he told a congressional hearing that the NSA does not collect information on millions of Americans, which it does, daily.

Appearing on NBC News with Andrea Mitchell, Clapper scrambled on the defensive with barely plausible excuses for his comments to Congress, which stand at direct odds with recent revelations about the NSA's vast dragnets. Via HuffPo:

During a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on March 12, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked the intelligence czar if the NSA gathers "any type of data at all on millions of Americans.”

"No, sir," Clapper responded. "Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly"...

"I thought, though in retrospect, I was asked-- "When are you going to start-- stop beating your wife" kind of question, which is meaning not-- answerable necessarily by a simple yes or no," Clapper said in the interview. "So I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful, manner by saying 'no'."

Clapper said his remarks also reflected his definition of "collection," which he said has a specific meaning in an intelligence context.

"What I was thinking of is looking at the Dewey Decimal numbers-- of those books in that metaphorical library-- to me, collection of U.S. persons' data would mean taking the book off the shelf and opening it up and reading it," he said.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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Andrea Mitchell James Clapper Nbc News Nsa Senate Intelligence Committee Spying Surveillance