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James Clapper Dismisses Congress Concerns About Foreign Espionage

In an attempt to patch up world relations and address transparency concerns at home, the nation’s top intelligence authorities testified before the House Intelligence Committee this Tuesday. Spearheading the hearing was Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who insisted that informing Congress or the White House of its operations is not a priority.

“Leadership intentions in whatever form that’s expressed is kind of a basic tenet of what we are to collect,” argued Clapper. He added that intelligence-gathering on foreign leaders is so commonplace that neither the president nor the House are on a need-to-know basis, alluding to the grand scale of the National Security Agency’s operations.

The hearing highlighted the rift between the NSA and the nation’s leaders and lawmakers. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) readily disagreed with Clapper’s justification.

“I think that if you’re tapping the phone line of a foreign leader, an ally, that is a significant intelligence activity that should be reported to the committee,” Schiff countered, adding that international outrage over the reports should also suffice as reason for more disclosure.

Nevertheless, Clapper dismissed Schiff’s concerns regarding global reaction, maintaining that basing the standard of transparency for Congress on public opinion would lower that standard significantly, potentially jeopardizing national security.

The ordeal brings back the echoes of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who, earlier this year, leaked classified documents pertaining to the United States’ use of espionage before fleeing the country.

Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA director, said the records were “external,” meaning they stemmed from agencies abroad, and that neither Snowden nor the media understood how to properly decipher the documents.

“[The report] represents information that we and our NATO allies have collected in defense of our countries and in support of military operations,” Alexander said. Other than the mandatory mention of counter-terrorism, the nature of these military operations, as well as their database implementations, remained unaddressed.

Clapper did tentatively address what he perceived as hypocrisy coming from leaders abroad who, as he points out, also carry on espionage operations on the U.S. “Some of this reminds me a lot of the classic movie ‘Casablanca’,” he said. “‘My God, there’s gambling going on here?’ You know, it’s the same kind of thing.”

About the author

Gary Bryan is an industrial marketing manager by daytime and political and social issues writer by night. You can also find his editorials at Mic.com.