Public officials are rarely called liars these days, even when they lie blatantly, but the ideological odd couple of Slate's Fred Kaplan and Charles Cooke of the National Review are both using the L word to call out Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for deceiving the public about the extent of the NSA's data gathering. Only Kaplan calls for Clapper to be fired — though others are not far behind — but the implication from both writers is clear: If you're going to be Director of National Intelligence, you should at least have a better poker face.
It all goes back to an exchange at a Senate hearing back on March 12 when Sen. Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, asked Clapper (the man charged with overseeing America's entire national security apparatus) straight up, under oath, "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper said, "No sir … not wittingly."
After Edward Snowden's leak, Cooke writes, "By dint of a widespread preference for politeness, human beings tend to trip over themselves to find euphemisms for the word 'lying.'" And as Kaplan writes, "we all now know, he was lying. We also now know that Clapper knew he was lying." Even more galling, as Kaplan points out, is that this was a question that Wyden already knew the answer to and Clapper knew that Wyden knew the answer was "Yes." But he said "No" anyway, because, as Clapper explained last weekend, he wanted to give an answer that was the "least untruthful." That's a parsing of language only Bill Clinton or Stephen Colbert could love.
And as Cooke adds, even if Clapper believed he was telling truth at the time — that the NSA wasn't actually doing what every one now knows they were doing — then he's an idiot who has no idea what goes on in the organizations he's supposed to be leading.
Neither idea is a ringing endorsement for Clapper's continued tenure as the DNI. Nor is his ability to joke about it so cavalierly in front of 700 "close" friends at an intelligence community gathering just as the story was exploding in his face.