Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, said Wednesday that Tuesday testimony from intelligence officials on the government’s data-surveillance programs did little to close what he called a “credibility gap.”
He pointed to testimony that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper gave during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in March when asked if the National Security Agency gathers “any type of data at all” on Americans.”
“No, sir,” Mr. Clapper said. “Not wittingly.”
“I guess the problem is ever since Clapper lied in March to us and said they weren’t collecting any data on Americans, there’s a credibility gap now, and it’s hard for us to really trust the intelligence community because the head of the intelligence community directly lied to the Senate and said they were collecting no data from Americans,” Mr. Paul said on “Fox and Friends.” “So I’m not sure when I’m being lied to and when they’re being honest.”
Mr. Clapper later said in an interview on NBC that the question didn’t have a simple yes or no answer, and that he answered “in what I thought was the most truthful or least untruthful manner by saying no.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, vouched for Mr. Clapper on ABC’s “This Week,” saying that “there is no more direct or honest person” than Mr. Clapper.
“You can misunderstand the question,” she said. “This is one of the dilemmas of talking about it.”
Intelligence officials said Tuesday that the NSA last year checked fewer than 300 telephone numbers against its database containing details about every phone call made in America.
Deputy NSA Director Christopher Inglis spoke about another program involving the collection of “metadata” from every phone called made or received in the country, saying the agency is not recording the content of any of the communications.
Instead, the NSA collects only the numbers called and calling, so that when the agency discovers the telephone number of a terrorist overseas, it can be discovered whether that person had been in touch with anyone in the United States.
“The controls on the use of this data at NSA are specific, rigorous and designed to ensure focus on counterterrorism,” Mr. Inglis said. “To that end, the metadata acquired and stored under this program may be queried only [under] a reasonable articulable suspicion” of a link to terrorism.
Only 22 people in the entire NSA were empowered to certify that such a suspicion existed, Mr. Inglis testified, and they did so last year in regard to fewer than 300 phone numbers, called “selectors” when they are applied to the database.
But that number didn’t satisfy Mr. Paul.
“Are they now saying that because I’m not at a top-secret level that it’s OK to lie to me in public?” Mr. Paul said. “I don’t know when I can be lied to and when I’m being told the truth now.”