By Pam Benson
It would probably be an understatement to say this was one of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s worst weeks on the job.
Leaked details of two top secret surveillance programs had the intelligence community and the Obama Administration scrambling to respond to what appears to be a massive effort to collect phone records of Americans and the e-mails and other communications of foreigners by the National Security Agency.
At a dinner Friday night honoring former CIA Director Michael Hayden, the DNI acknowledged his tough few days with a quip: “So many emails to read, so little time.”
But Clapper had serious comments about what he called “the elephant in the room.”
He said the unauthorized disclosure of the secret spy programs was “reprehensible and egregious,” a comment which drew applause from the mostly current and former intelligence officers who filled the ballroom for the Intelligence and National Security Alliance awards ceremony.
Referring to what President Barack Obama had said earlier in the day, Clapper maintained the programs were legal, had been authorized by Congress after much debate and they provided valuable intelligence that has helped keep the nation safe and secure.
After the brief diversion, Clapper then went on to pay tribute to the guest of honor, Michael Hayden.
Hayden himself is very familiar with controversy generated from the unauthorized leak of a surveillance program.
In 2005, the New York Times exposed the domestic warrantless wiretap program Hayden had initiated when he was Director of the National Security Agency during the Bush administration. The outcry over that program forced the Bush administration to make changes.
At the Friday night dinner, Hayden called the current NSA surveillance programs “descendants” of the one he began.
He referred to President George W. Bush and Obama as being “incredibly different presidents,” but said they had “congruity when facing threats.”
Hayden went on to chastise what he called the “political elites” who criticize the intelligence community for not doing enough, but as soon as they feel safe, “pontificate that we’re doing too much.”
But all in all, the controversy generated by the revelations of PRISM and the collection of metadata had Hayden saying it’s “a great day to be a former senior intelligence officer.”