The absurd honesty of Clapper's NSA review group

James "least untruthful" Clapper will review his own agency to promote "trust" not shift policy

Published August 13, 2013 5:11PM (EDT)

In June, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper made a comment that deserves a place in history books that should tell of an era of thick government opacity and executive overreach. Clapper said that when he lied to Congress in saying, under oath, that the National Security Agency (NSA) did not collect data on Americans, that he was giving the "least untruthful" answer on the agency's sprawling dragnet (which both sweeps up and can target Americans' communications). Orwell wept.

This week, Clapper announced that he would be overseeing ("at the direction of the President") a Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies "to examine our global signals-intelligence collection and surveillance capability."

In his announcement, Clapper noted the review group would aim to assess the national security efficacy of the NSA programs "while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust."

The fact of Clapper overseeing the review of his own agency, which has been criticized for blocking even basic Congressional oversight, is worthy enough of a place in Kafka's Castle.

The reference to "public trust" as opposed to, say, upholding the protections provided citizen's by the Fourth Amendment against undue search and seizure is also all important. "Trust" can be created with lies -- or even a set of "least untruths." All that's necessary for public trust is to convince the public, not to actually act in the interest of protecting rights and liberties. Ironically, in his statement announcing the foundation of his Review Group, Clapper was honest: These NSA reviews are not about attenuating invasive surveillance programs, but promoting "public trust" -- they carry no promise of policy change in the interest of civil liberties at all.

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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Edward Snowden James Clapper Nsa Prism Review Group Spying Surveillance