The U.S. government long considered its collection of Americans’ call records to be a state secret. Now the Director of National Intelligence admits it would have been better if Washington had acknowledged the surveillance in the first place.

Even the head of the U.S. intelligence community now believes that its collection and storage of millions of call records was kept too secret for too long.

The American public and most members of Congress were kept in the dark for years about a secret U.S. program to collect and store such records of American citizens on a massive scale.The government’s legal interpretation of section 215 of the Patriot Act that granted the authority for this dragnet collection was itself a state secret.

Then came Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked the court warrant authorizing the surveillance—along with troves of other top-secret documents. Since that first disclosure of the secret warrant, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has had to defend the government’s activities against a skeptical Congress and wary public.

In an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast, Clapper said the problems facing the U.S. intelligence community over its collection of phone records could have been avoided. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but I will. Had we been transparent about this from the outset right after 9/11—which is the genesis of the 215 program—and said both to the American people and to their elected representatives, we need to cover this gap, we need to make sure this never happens to us again, so here is what we are going to set up, here is how it’s going to work, and why we have to do it, and here are the safeguards… We wouldn’t have had the problem we had,” Clapper said.

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