Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has been one of Congress's harshest critics of the secrecy surrounding U.S. intelligence programs. His pointed questioning of intelligence officials before the leaks by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden led to the now-famous exchange in which Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. denied that the government was collecting data on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans. That claim was contradicted by the revelation that the NSA was collecting domestic phone records in bulk.
During a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Wednesday, Wyden and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) took intelligence officials to task for what Udall called a "truth deficit" between the intelligence community and the American public.
Wyden launched his questions by recalling a string of what he believes were "misleading and deceptive statements" made by intelligence officials to Congress and the public.
Let me start by saying that the men and women of America's intelligence agencies are overwhelmingly dedicated professionals, and they deserve to have leadership that is trusted by the American people. Unfortunately, that trust has been seriously undermined by senior officials' reckless reliance on secret interpretations of the law and battered by years of misleading and deceptive statements that senior officials made to the American people. These statements did not protect sources and methods that were useful in fighting terror. Instead, they hid bad policy choices and violation of the liberties of the American people.
For example, the director of the NSA said publicly that the NSA doesn't hold data on U.S. citizens. That was obviously untrue.
Justice Department officials testified that Section 215 of the Patriot Act is analogous to grand jury subpoena authority, and that deceptive statement was made on multiple occasions.
Officials also suggested that the NSA doesn't have the authority to read Americans' e-mails without a warrant. But the FISA Court opinions declassified last August showed that wasn't true, either.
Udall, speaking later, mirrored Wyden's tone while questioning CIA Director John Brennan.
Let me move to the Snowden disclosures and what I think's been a, clearly outlined as a, trust deficit that exists between the public and the intelligence community. This committee was created to address a severe breach of trust that developed when it was revealed that the CIA was conducting unlawful domestic searches. The Church committee went to work, found that to be true.
I want to be able to reassure the American people, especially given what's been happening, that the CIA and the director understand the limits of their mission and of its authorities.
While questioning Clapper on Wednesday, Wyden claimed that his written inquiries about whether Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act had been used to conduct warrantless searches on Americans had been "stonewalled" by the NSA. He requested a written response within 30 days.