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Edward Snowden, the man who publicly exposed several controversial National Security Agency programs, said Monday that he was inspired to leak the secrets because of spy agency leaders’ “lies” to Congress, and because congressional leaders did nothing about it.
Snowden’s remarks came during an online question and answer session on the Guardian newspaper’s website. He criticized both the national spymaster and the group of eight lawmakers who have access to information about the nation’s most classified spy operations.
“It was seeing a continuing litany of lies from senior officials to Congress — and therefore the American people — and the realization that that [sic] Congress, specifically the Gang of Eight, wholly supported the lies that compelled me to act,” he wrote. “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.”
Clapper has come under fire for telling the Senate Intelligence Committee at a March hearing that the NSA does not collect information on millions of Americans, at least “not wittingly.” One of the programs Snowden exposed collects phone record metadata on millions of U.S. telephone customers. Sen. Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who asked the question that led to Clapper’s answer, criticized intelligence community leaders for not giving “straight” answers.
The “gang of eight” is a group of lawmakers composed of the bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate and the two intelligence committees. Those leaders have been among the most vocal supporters of the NSA programs Snowden revealed, citing them as necessary to preventing terrorist attacks.
Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has specifically defended Clapper over his “not wittingly” statement, saying he was an “honest” person who might have misunderstood the question that led to his remarks. Clapper said he was trying to give the “least untruthful” answer.
House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said June 9 on ABC’s “This Week” that Snowden should not have leaked the information, and could have come to Congress or inspectors general with his concerns.
“I argue that there’s other methods. He could come to the committees, if they had concern,” Rogers said. “We have IGs that they can go to in a classified way if they have concern. Taking a very sensitive classified program that targets foreign person on foreign lands, and putting just enough out there to be dangerous, is dangerous to us, it’s dangerous to our national security and it violates the oath of which that person took. I absolutely think they should be prosecuted.”
NSA Director Gen. Keith B. Alexander — who spent most of last week on the Hill briefing lawmakers on the programs — will again appear before Congress on Tuesday, along with several other intelligence community officials, at an open House Intelligence Committee hearing. According to the hearing announcement, the committee will delve into how the NSA programs have protected the United States against terrorist attacks and how their disclosure helps U.S. enemies.
Other witnesses scheduled to appear at the hearing include James Cole, deputy attorney general; Sean Joyce, deputy director of the FBI; and Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.