Tuesday marks the 17th anniversary of 9/11. Fifteen citizens of our Middle Eastern ally, Saudi Arabia, organized the hijacking of four airliners leaving Boston’s Logan Airport. Two planes hit New York’s World Trade Center, one struck the Pentagon, the fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania while passengers attempted to re-take command. All told, 2,996 people died.
The financial and military mastermind of 9/11 was Osama bin Laden, son of an influential Saudi family living in Afghanistan.
Our intelligence agencies missed the 9/11 clues. George W. Bush’s Republican administration inaugurated a vast domestic surveillance program, intruding into the personal lives of Americans. Democrats largely embraced the spying while paying lip service to civil liberties. Attorney General Eric Holder continued the eavesdropping during President Obama’s administration.
Republicans Ron Paul and his son Rand stood alone within their party defending civil liberties. Democrats opposing the government eavesdropping, like Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, were thwarted by Dianne Feinstein who in following years served as chair or as ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Feinstein advocates the modern British argument for surveillance: “If you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear”.
Congress winked its eye and looked away as elected civilians relinquished civil liberties to unelected generals who oversaw the secret domestic spying.
Foremost among these generals were Keith Alexander, who became National Security Agency (NSA) chief and James Clapper, who had climbed the ranks of the secret military spying community to become director of national intelligence.
Generals are not elected. They are military professionals who are duty bound to carry out constitutionally legal orders issued by elected officials. They are obligated to tell the truth in public when asked by the people’s representatives. This distinguishes democracy from military dictatorship.
In a 2012 congressional hearing, Alexander was asked about allegations from former NSA officials that the NSA engages in collection of voice and digital information of US citizens. He replied “…the NSA does not collect that data.” He was lying.
At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing the same year, Wyden asked Clapper a similar question, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper replied, “No” and, after a pause he added “Not wittingly”
In 2013, Edward Snowden, an electronic security contractor employed by US intelligence agencies, was disturbed by the lies being told to the public; he disclosed the NSA’s spying programs. The lie was exposed! Attorney Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras explained the lurid details in print and on film.
The whole world was watching. Nevertheless, despite their lies told to Congress, both generals continued their secret military activity with bi-partisan support throughout the Obama administration.
Now, after five years, Clapper attempts to explain himself in his new book, “Facts and Fears.” The title suggests that a reader might learn some new information that might place military snooping programs in a new perspective. We might expect to learn new insights in the history, methodology and governance of vast volumes of intelligence collected by governments worldwide. Instead, Clapper offers a personal narrative of his rise through the military ranks as a go along-get along kind of guy.
Clapper’s defense is greater offense. His principal targets are the heroes of the story, Snowden, who realized he was compelled to expose the assault on freedom, and Greenwald, who told Snowden’s story to the world. Clapper then attacks Wyden for asking the domestic spying question in the first place. Finally, he claims he was not under oath when he answered Wyden’s question.
In 2016 the Democratic presidential candidate, despite a $1.4 billion war chest, lost the Electoral College vote to Donald Trump while winning the popular vote. Democratic strategists failed to allocate resources to states whose electoral votes were critical to Democratic victory. Invoking secret evidence, the Democratic establishment claims that the election was thrown to Trump by foreign governments. When pressed for concrete evidence the Democrats cite Clapper’s statements, made without substantive evidence.
Perhaps the last word on Clapper’s career is best given by Wyden, one of the few voices of cleanliness throughout this repugnant affair. He said, “During Director Clapper’s tenure, senior intelligence officials engaged in a deception spree regarding mass surveillance. Top officials, officials who reported to Director Clapper, repeatedly misled the American people and even lied to them.”
The author is a member of the California Democratic Party Central Committee. He and JPL colleagues challenged background snooping of federal employees in court. The JPL employees lost their case at the US Supreme Court.