September 10,2015–Better late than never. While running down a remark by our top spook, Fearful Leader Clapper, this morning, I ran right into his senior shyster, the ever-entertaining Robert S. Litt. I missed this when it happened back in May but the message of unreconstructed arrogance is important enough to bring to you today.
As general counsel to the Director of National Intelligence (Clapper), Mr. Litt furnishes advice on all manner of DNI actions, from new directives to the intelligence community to prepping his boss for congressional hearings.
You will recall that two years ago Fearful Leader was caught in a lie before the Senate intelligence committee when he testified under oath that the National Security Agency had no program under which it spied on hundreds of millions of Americans. That Clapper was under oath made the lie perjury. The failure to require Clapper’s resignation for misinforming Congress became another of President Obama’s favors to his spies, but that’s another story. This one is about Bob Litt.
General Clapper actually was more forthcoming than his lawyer. Clapper told reporters that he had tried to answer the question in a way that would be the least damaging for the spy agencies he commands. That represented accepting a measure of responsibility. But Mr. Litt stepped up to insist that DNI Clapper was innocent because he had forgotten about the NSA dragnet surveillance program. Litt compounded that performance, sending letters to the editor of the Washington Post, New York Times, and New Yorker magazine insisting on that construction of events. Fast forward eighteen months. This May, at a panel discussion hosted by the Advisory Committee on Transparency, Robert Litt repeated this preposterous story. At the time he was sitting right next to lawyer F. A. O. Schwarz, who had served as chief counsel to the Church Committee when it investigated the intelligence agencies in the 1970s. It was the secrecy queen and the apostle of openness together at last.
The story from Mr. Litt’s point of view is actually worse than that quick summary. Litt was preparing Clapper for the hearing. He knew that Senator Ron Wyden would be asking General Clapper about the dragnet surveillance–the senator observed protocol and informed the DNI of what he’d be asking. If Clapper forgot Litt’s job was to remind him. If Clapper confused the Section 715 eavesdropping with the Section 702 spookery, correcting that was Litt’s job too. Plus Law School 101 surely teaches that the commission of an act is not excused by innocently thinking something else. Worse, after the perjured testimony Clapper was offered the opportunity to correct it–and there again Litt’s job would have been to alert his boss to the danger and get Clapper to insert a correction. That didn’t happen either.
Now Mr. Litt is sorry. Of a correction letter he says, “I wish we had done that at the time.”
Robert S. Litt is the principal compiler of the ODNI’s chronology of intelligence appreciations and activities in respect to the September 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. What should we believe about that?