Ratcheting up the Obama administration’s feud with journalists, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper criticized the news media Saturday for a “rush to publish” information based on “reckless” leaks about government surveillance programs.
In a rare move, Mr. Clapper distributed to the media information about the recently disclosed surveillance operation known as PRISM, saying he had declassified some details to dispel “myths” in news reports about the government program to monitor citizens’ Internet activities.
“Over the last week we have seen reckless disclosures of intelligence community measures used to keep Americans safe,” Mr. Clapper said in a statement released by the White House National Security Council. “In a rush to publish, media outlets have not given the full context – including the extent to which these programs are overseen by all three branches of government – to these effective tools.”
In the past week, the Guardian newspaper of Great Britain and the Washington Post reported the existence of PRISM, and its use by the National Security Agency and the FBI for “tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies.”
Mr. Clapper said the program is crucial to protecting the country against terrorist attacks, and that the Internet companies are aware of the surveillance.
“Service providers supply information to the government when they are lawfully required to do so,” he said.
The national intelligence director said the leaks to the media about these surveillance programs is harming national security.
“Disclosing information about the specific methods the government uses to collect communications can obviously give our enemies a ‘playbook’ of how to avoid detection,” Mr. Clapper said. “Nonetheless, Section 702 [of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] has proven vital to keeping the nation and our allies safe. It continues to be one of our most important tools for the protection of the nation’s security.”
The Guardian also was the first to report that the NSA is collecting telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon under a top secret order issued in April by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Mr. Clapper said the surveillance activities are legal and he said, as President Obama stated on Friday, that there are numerous checks and balances in the government to protect against the invasion of privacy. He said Congress and the courts play a role in ensuring that civil liberties are protected.
A fact sheet released by Mr. Clapper said PRISM “is not an undisclosed collection or data mining program” but rather “an internal government computer system” for gathering foreign intelligence under the act.
It said the government “does not unilaterally obtain information from the servers of U.S. electronic communication service providers.”