Obama says Clapper could have handled his congressional testimony better

McClatchy Washington BureauJanuary 31, 2014 

Last year, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, came under fire after he told the Senate Intelligence Committee in March that the United States does not collect data on millions of Americans.

But, as the secret documents leaked by former federal contractor Edward Snowden showed a few months later, that was not true.

President Barack Obama said in interview to be aired Friday on CNN that "Jim Clapper himself would acknowledge, and has acknowledged, that he should have been more, careful about how he responded.

"His concern was that he had a classified program that he couldn't talk about and he was in an open hearing in which he was asked, he was prompted, to disclose a program, and so he felt that he was caught between a rock and a hard place," Obama told CNN's Jake Tapper. "Subsequently, I think he's acknowledged that he could have handled it better."

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked Clapper in March, "Does the [National Security Agency] collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?"

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

Obama said Clapper has spoken to Wyden since that exchange.

"The broader point is that everybody that I've dealt with in our intelligence community is really working hard to try to do a very tough job to protect us when there are constant threat streams coming at us, but doing so in a way that's consistent with the law and is consistent with our constitution and consistent with our privacy rights," he said.

Obama announced a slew of changes to the United States's vast surveillance programs, including reining in a phone collection program, halting spying on dozens of foreign leaders, appointing a team of advocates to sometimes appear before the nation's secret surveillance court -- which now hears arguments only from the government - and releasing more classified documents.

"What's clear is that we are going to have to do a better job of being transparent about what we do, to have a robust public debate about what we do," Obama told Tapper.

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