Intelligence chief James Clapper sorry for 'erroneous' NSA claims

National Intelligence Director James Clapper apologized for false statements he made to Congress earlier this year when asked about National Security Agency data collection programs.

Clapper, in a letter to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, said his answer to the question of whether the NSA gathered "any type of data at all on ... millions of Americans," was "clearly erroneous."

Clapper had first said data collection of Americans' information didn't happen wittingly. But dissatisfied with his answer, he then sent the letter on June 21 in which he claimed to have misunderstood the question.

“I simply didn’t think of Section 215 of the Patriot Act,” he wrote, citing the legal provision that allows spy agencies to collect Americans’ phone data. “I have thought long and hard to re-create what went through my mind at the time,” Clapper continued, adding that he had instead focused on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Senator Ron Wyden, who questioned Clapper about the NSA programs, said Clapper knew he would be asked such questions before the hearing, and according to Wyden's spokesman, the issue was clarified in private afterwards.

“The Office of the Director of National Intelligence acknowledged that the statement was inaccurate but refused to correct the public record when given the opportunity. Senator Wyden's staff informed the ODNI that this was a serious concern,” Wyden spokesman Tom Caiazza told the Guardian on Monday.

Last week, Wyden and 25 senators wrote Clapper to voice their disapproval with an administration that uses a “secret body of law” to collect data on United States citizens and makes misleading statements about those programs.

“We are concerned that by depending on secret interpretations of the Patriot Act that differed from an intuitive reading of the statute, this program essentially relied for years on a secret body of law,” they said. “This and misleading statements by intelligence officials have prevented our constituents from evaluating the decisions that their government was making, and will unfortunately undermine trust in government more broadly.”

This revelation, of course, comes after whistleblower Edward Snowden — still on the run from US espionage charges — leaked details about the NSA's massive data collection programs.