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DNI James Clapper Tells Today: We Couldn’t Read Everybody’s Emails ‘Even If We Wanted To’

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper spoke to Andrea Mitchell on the Today show Sunday morning about the intelligence gathering and surveillance programs revealed by this Guardian and Washington Post this week.

“For me, it is literally, not figuratively, gut-wrenching to see this happen, because of the huge, grave damage it does to our intelligence capabilities,” Clapper said. “Transparency is a double-edged sword, in that our adversaries, whether nation-state adversaries, or nefarious groups, benefit from that transparency. As we speak, they’re going to school, learning how we do this.”

Clapper downplayed the extent of the government’s access and interest in average citizens’ communications, claiming that the breadth of the data collection belies the NSA’s ability to process it.

“The notion that we’re trolling through everyone’s emails and voyeuristically reading them, or listening to everyone phone call, is on its face absurd,” Clapper said. “We couldn’t do it even if we wanted to.”

The Director cited several cases in which information gathered through the surveillance program helped disrupt terrorist plots (or not), and noted that when a terrorist does succeed in executing an attack, the government is often blamed for not knowing ahead of time.

“I find it a little ironic that several weeks ago after the Boston bombings, we were accused of not being sufficiently intrusive,” Clapper said. “We failed to determine the exact tipping point when the brothers self-radicalized, and then it was that we weren’t intrusive enough.”

After yesterday’s memo accusing reporter Glenn Greenwald of “rushing to publish” the information, Clapper turned his sights onto the whistleblower, now revealed to be Edward Snowden.

“This is someone, who, for whatever reason, has violated a sacred trust,” Clapper said. “I hope we are able to track down whoever is doing this, because it is extremely damanging, and affects the safety and security of this country.”

Watch the interview here, via NBC:


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