Intelligence chief James Clapper defends internet spying program
President Barack Obama, right, walks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Annenberg Retreat of the Sunnylands estate Saturday, June 8, 2013, in Rancho Mirage, Calif. During their staged walk for the press Obama told reporters their meetings have been "terrific." The issue of cyberespionage hangs over the summit, although both leaders carefully avoided accusing each other of the practice. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Barack Obama gestures during a statment about the Affordable Care Act, Friday, June 7, 2013, in San Jose, Calif. Speaking about the NSA collecting of phone records, the president said`Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,' just numbers and duration. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Barack Obama, right, walks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands on Saturday, June 8, 2013, in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Obama and Xi are wrapping up a two-day summit at which they tackled the contentious issue of cybersecurity and tried to forge closer ties between the leaders of the world's largest economies. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Barack Obama pauses while speaking in San Jose, Calif. , Friday, June 7, 2013. The president defended his government's secret surveillance, saying Congress has repeatedly authorized the collection of America's phone records and U.S. internet use. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
This undated photo made available by Google shows the campus-network room at a data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Routers and switches allow Google's data centers to talk to each other. The fiber cables run along the yellow cable trays near the ceiling. (AP Photo/Google, Connie Zhou)
An aerial view of the NSA's Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah, Thursday, June 6, 2013. The government is secretly collecting the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top-secret court order, according to the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The Obama administration is defending the National Security Agency's need to collect such records, but critics are calling it a huge over-reach. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2009 file photo, Najibullah Zazi arrives at the federal building for questioning by the FBI in Denver. As the Obama administration defended its widespread collection of phone records, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Friday that the program helped disrupt a 2009 plot to bomb the New York City subways. Zazi, an Afghan-American, pleaded guilty in the 2009 plot, saying he had been recruited by al-Qaida in Pakistan. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski, File)
FILE -- In this file photo taken Wednesday, April 21, 2010, shows Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence James Clapper. Clapper called the disclosure of an Internet surveillance program "reprehensible" Thursday June 6, 2013 and said it risks Americans' security. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
File- In this Tuesday, March 30, 2010, file photo, two ceiling-mounted video surveillance cameras are seen as a man awaits the arrival of a No. 1 subway train at the 34th Street station, in New York. In a 2011 poll by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 54 percent of those surveyed felt protecting citizens' rights and freedoms should be a higher priority for the government than keeping people safe from terrorists. At the same time, 64 percent said it was sometimes necessary to sacrifice some rights and freedoms to fight terrorism. (AP Photo/Stephen Chernin)
President Barack Obama, right, talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands on Saturday, June 8, 2013, in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Obama and Xi are wrapping up a two-day summit at which they tackled the contentious issue of cybersecurity and tried to forge closer ties between the leaders of the world's largest economies. During the walk Obama told reporters the meetings have been "terrific." (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
This undated photo provided by Facebook shows the server room at the company's data center in Prineville, Ore. The revelations that the National Security Agency is perusing millions of U.S. customer phone records at Verizon and snooping on the digital communications stored by nine major Internet services illustrate how aggressively personal data is being collected and analyzed. (AP Photo/Facebook, Alan Brandt)
Eager to quell a domestic furor over U.S. spying, the nation’s top intelligence official stressed yesterday that a previously undisclosed program for tapping into internet usage is authorized by Congress, falls under strict supervision of a secret court and cannot intentionally target a U.S. citizen. He decried the revelation of that and another intelligence-gathering program as reckless.
For the second time in three days, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper took the rare step of declassifying some details of an intelligence program to respond to media reports about counterterrorism techniques employed by the government.
“Disclosing information about the specific methods the government uses to collect communications can obviously give our enemies a ‘playbook’ of how to avoid detection,” he said in a statement.
Clapper said the data collection under the program, first unveiled by the newspapers The Washington Post and The Guardian, was with the approval of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court and with the knowledge of internet service providers.
Clapper’s reaction came a day after President Obama defended the counterterrorism methods and said Americans need to “make some choices” in balancing privacy and security. But the president’s response and Clapper’s unusual public stance underscore the nerve touched by the disclosures and the sensitivity of the Obama administration to any suggestion that it is trampling on the civil liberties of Americans.
Late Thursday, Clapper declassified some details of a phone records collection program employed by the National Security Agency that aims to obtain from phone companies on an “ongoing, daily basis” the records of its customers’ calls. Clapper said that under that court-supervised program, only a small fraction of the records collected ever get examined because most are unrelated to any inquiries into terrorism activities.
His statement and declassification yesterday addressed the internet scouring program, code-named PRISM, that allowed the NSA and FBI to tap directly into the servers of major internet companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and AOL. Like the phone records program, PRISM was approved by a judge in a secret court order. Unlike that program, however, PRISM allowed the government to seize actual conversations: emails, video chats, instant messages and more.
Clapper said the program, authorized in the USA Patriot Act, has been in place since 2008, the last year of the George W. Bush administration, and “has proven vital to keeping the nation and our allies safe.”