James Clapper Plays More Word Games In The Official Denial Of French Phone Data Collection Leak

from the nothing-means-anything-it-used-to-mean dept

James Clapper has finally officially responded to the recent leak published by French newspaper Le Monde, which indicated the NSA had gathered data on 70 million phone calls and intercepted an untold number of them. While his statement is preferable to his office’s first response (“blah blah completely legal blah blah subject to rigorous oversight”), it really does nothing more than affirm the intelligence community’s fondness for word games.

Recent articles published in the French newspaper Le Monde contain inaccurate and misleading information regarding U.S. foreign intelligence activities. The allegation that the National Security Agency collected more than 70 million “recordings of French citizens’ telephone data” is false.

While we are not going to discuss the details of our activities, we have repeatedly made it clear that the United States gathers intelligence of the type gathered by all nations. The U.S. collects intelligence to protect the nation, its interests, and its allies from, among other things, threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

It’s all semantics, whether the NSA’s defenders are discussing abilities vs. authority or whether or not a collection occurred “under this program.” In this case, Clapper takes a convoluted statement (“recordings… of telephone data”) and chooses to present both allegations (collected phone data/recorded calls) as completely false by cherry-picking a single badly written (or translated) sentence.

When the story first broke, there was some confusion as to whether the NSA had recorded 70 million calls or simply collected metadata, in part due to the wording used by Le Monde. The Washington Post clarified this by pointing out that the NSA collected metadata on 70 million phone calls and intercepted certain calls to certain phone numbers. Even Le Monde itself broke this down further, highlighting the fact that the NSA utilized a handful of collection processes.

“The agency has several collection methods,” Le Monde said. “When certain French phone numbers are dialled, a signal is activated that triggers the automatic recording of certain conversations. This surveillance also recovers SMS and content based on keywords.”

Clapper addresses none of these activities and simply focuses on the one sentence that gives him plausible (and convoluted) deniability.

In essence, the foreign collection (although, in the NSA’s hivemind, a collection doesn’t actually occur until an agent searches the, uh, collected data) is almost identical to the NSA’s Section 215 collections. Vast amounts of metadata grabbed simply because there’s no legal basis preventing it.

The rest of his statement is mostly true — almost every country spies on other countries. This has been the status quo for years, and while the French government has made lots of noise about this recent leak, it seems to be largely using this as an opportunity to reroute outrage and criticism away from its own domestic spying.

The constant refrain of “terrorism” and “WMDs” is to be expected as well, but it hardly explains the repeatedly surfacing evidence that the agency also spies on foreign corporations, something that sounds more like industrial espionage than ensuring national security.

Clapper winds things up by telling readers France and America are still best friends and, somewhat chillingly, “we will continue to cooperate on security and intelligence matters going forward.” I know this is probably meant to sound like a cheery “we’ll give you a head’s up if we need your citizens’ phone data,” but given the cozy relationship the NSA has with the UK’s GCHQ and others, it sounds more like “we’ll show you ours if you’ll show us yours.” Nations cooperating on security matters seems like a good idea, but when a government begins sharing the unfiltered results of its domestic surveillance with foreign nations while requiring little more than a “gentleman’s agreement” that the data won’t be abused, it’s time to start worrying again.

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Comments on “James Clapper Plays More Word Games In The Official Denial Of French Phone Data Collection Leak”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: France isn't serious

France has a tendency to waive the hands and say non to everything. None of the threats are really getting to do much.

In other news, the EP has adopted some amendments to the privacy directive they are working on. In some of them, there are some “property rights over information is assigned to the person the information is about” (that could get really nasty unless properly watered down) and some nasty demands on non-eu services, making it very difficult to get an approval for moving personal data away from EU-countries. The rules apply to both Facebook and Google and will seriously screw with NSAs collection methods. There is a long road ahead and the directive has not been finished yet, but it will take quite the effort for NSA and US companies to get even the top of the “nasties” out of the law.

Anonymous Coward says:

has anyone managed to get a straight answer at all out of this jerk? i wonder what the reaction would be if it were found that France or Germany were intercepting 70 million calls a month from US citizens, including some from the White House and other politicians and several from his own residence. i think a case of shit hitting fan would be started

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Moreover, what is really troubling is that he hasn’t really learned that he is better off just STFU. Every time he opens his mouth public opinion of him and his office drops more and more. I understand that the public won’t stand for his office not responding at all to any of the continuing release of allegations coming from the leaks. They have to respond with SOMETHING. But his credibility is rapidly approaching zero and gaining steam with every word he udders. He has staffers that can respond and if they say something bad, well they can just claim that the staffer misspoke or didn’t mean what they said in that context or whatever excuse they want to come up with after the fact because when all is said and done the person speaking is just a staffer trying to do the job the are instructed to do. But when the man at the top speaks, they don’t get that luxury. Can’t he see that he’s just digging their hole deeper and deeper by opening his mouth in public? Really. It shows a serious inability to see the forest for the trees which perhaps explains why the intelligence community can only seem “connect the dots” after the fact with regards to actual terrorism plots.

Anonymous Coward says:

‘The U.S. collects intelligence to protect the nation, its interests, and its allies from, among other things, threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.’

are the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ the ones standing next to the ones Bush’s lot found? i dont know when the last one was actually made, let alone found! as for the part about protect…..it’s allies from…..terrorism. the only nation Clapper and his ilk will be protecting is his own!! he and the rest need to be dismissed immediately and face charges of the same severity as those wanted to be put on Snowden! what he has done is a greater service than all these other fuckers put together! the big advantages he has is that he has gained nothing out of what he did, rather, the exact opposite and he didn’t lie from arse hole to breakfast to keep his job or protect himself!!

art guerrilla (profile) says:

sure, 'all' countries spy on each other...

1. i’m actually betting there are more than a few countries (you know, third-worldish and/or small) who DO NOT spy on ‘each other’, if not merely because they can’t afford to, not that they don’t want to do so…

*however*, i’m betting there are some countries who don’t spy as a matter of principle… either it is uneconomical, or it serves no useful purpose, or it is, you know, morally wrong… some people on the planet still put stock in those things, principles… (they will be crushed by Empire)

2. sure, ‘all’ countries spy: just like michael jordan plays basketball, and i shoot hoops too ! ! !
so, that’s the same, right ? ? ?

because the difference between the spying machine of uncle sam’s, and the spying apparatus of dirtholeistan is only slightly different…

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Jerrymiah (profile) says:


I do not believe one word of what this asshole had to say nor most members of the Obama administration as a matter of fact. Everything they have said up until now, is later contradicted and proven false. It is now time that a serious new political party emerge in the US since both the Reps and Dems seem unable to the the job properly. Under Obama, the US has turned a Socialist state and the republican party is nowhere ready to provide a suitable replacement.

New Mexico Mark says:

Reasonable response from France would be...

“Since Mr. Clapper is a proven liar — even to those to whom he is answerable in his own government, we take his denial as strong confirmation that our complaint is true and reasonably accurate. In fact, it would be difficult to find a more reliable source of truth than simply inverting every denial by Mr. Clapper.”

“Furthermore, since Mr. Clapper has not been sanctioned in any way for his falsehoods, we can only conclude that his superiors endorse and approve of lying as a means to an end, and are similarly untrustworthy.”

Anonymous Coward says:

“The U.S. collects intelligence to protect the nation, its interests, and its allies …”
By specifically spying on its allies and their business.

“Honestly we really are friends, just empty out your pockets there, and afterwards we’ll do a full cavity search.
Bend over please.
See, we said please or at least sometimes say please, that’s how you know we’re a specific type of friend.”

Specific type of friend more commonly known as enemy.

Anonymous Coward says:

“but given the cozy relationship the NSA has with the UK’s GCHQ and others, it sounds more like “we’ll show you ours if you’ll show us yours”

Honestly Tim, that is one thing you really don’t have to worry about, the US idea of sharing is very much from the school of you show me yours and I’ll look at yours but there’s no way on earth that you’re looking at mine. If you are really good about showing me yours all the time, I might drop hints about the shape or colour of mine but you ain’t seeing it and I reserve the right to make claims about mine that might not be true, but you’ll have no way of checking.

BTW the US has the best genital equipment in the world and the rumour that its faulty, foul smelling and wrong is completely false – claims US
Everyone else knowingly smiles, nods, puts plastic on the seats and sprays a hell of a lot of air freshener in any room they think the US will spend time in.

steve Laudig says:

Serial, Mass, or Spree?

Replace ‘murderer’ with ‘liar”
A Serial Murderer: A serial killer is traditionally defined as a person who has murdered three or more people[1][2] over a period of more than a month, with down time (a “cooling off period”) between the murders. Serial killing is not the same as mass murdering, nor is it spree killing, in which murders are committed in two or more locations with virtually no break in between;

A Mass Murderer: Mass murder (in military contexts, sometimes interchangeable with “mass destruction”) is the act of murdering a large number of people, typically at the same time or over a relatively short period of time.[1]
According to the FBI, for individuals, mass murder is defined as the person murdering four or more persons during a particular event with no cooling-off period between the murders. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_murder

Spree Murderer: A spree killer is someone who kills two or more victims in a short time in multiple locations. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics defines a spree killing as “killings at two or more locations with almost no time break between murders”.[1]

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