After telling Congress that the National Security Agency does not collect data on millions of Americans, National Intelligence Director James Clapper has issued an apology, telling Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein that his statement was "clearly erroneous."
Secret documents leaked by former NSA contract worker Edward Snowden have shown that the agency has been collecting metadata from phone records on millions of Americans. The documents also indicated an ability to conduct surveillance on Americans' Internet activities.
When Clapper was asked by Sen. Ron Wyden in March if the NSA collects "any type of data at all on millions, or hundreds of millions of Americans," Clapper answered, "No sir," before adding, "Not wittingly."
After the revelations emerged about the NSA's activities, Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence panel, posted an explanation of that exchange, in which he said he sent the question to Clapper's office one day in advance, and also gave Clapper a chance to amend his answer after the public hearing had ended.
Snowden has said that Clapper's statements on the NSA's abilities and practices played a role in motivating him to reveal the classified information. Here's what he said, as The Two-Way reported last month:
"It was seeing a continuing litany of lies from senior officials to Congress - and therefore the American people - and the realization that that Congress, specifically the Gang of Eight, wholly supported the lies that compelled me to act. Seeing someone in the position of James Clapper - the Director of National Intelligence - baldly lying to the public without repercussion is the evidence of a subverted democracy. The consent of the governed is not consent if it is not informed."
The letter of apology was first reported on Friday, by The Washington Post. It was released publicly today.
In a statement, Sen. Feinstein said, "I have received Director Clapper's letter and believe it speaks for itself. I have no further comment at this time."
Citing Wyden spokesman Tom Caiazza, the AP reports that "when Wyden staffers contacted Clapper's office shortly after the hearing, his staffers 'acknowledged that the statement was inaccurate but refused to correct the public record when given the opportunity.'"
Calazza says Wyden "is deeply troubled by a number of misleading statements senior officials have made about domestic surveillance in the past several years. He will continue pushing for an open and honest debate."