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James Clapper, of NSA-scandal fame, is stepping down

A remark to Congress by Clapper provided a key moment during the uproar over NSA spying.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has submitted his letter of resignation.
Alex Wong, Getty Images

One hopes he's doing it wittingly.

US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is resigning his post, he told the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

Clapper became a symbol of the National Security Agency and its secret spying programs in 2013, after documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed the programs' existence.

A few months prior to the leaks, Clapper had testified during a congressional hearing that the NSA was not gathering data on masses of Americans.

When asked by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) if the NSA collects "any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans," Clapper replied, "No sir. Not wittingly."

Video of the moment, and Clapper's distinctive body language, became emblematic, and proved irresistible to TV gag writers.

"I'm quite sure that will be in the first line of my Washington Post obituary," Clapper told Wired in an interview published Thursday. "But that's life in the big city."

Clapper told the publication that he'd been confused when answering Wyden's question and had been thinking about programs different than those the senator was asking about.

"The popular narrative is that I lied," he told Wired, "but I just didn't think of it. Yes, I made a mistake, but I didn't lie. There's a big difference."

Clapper, 75, was appointed director of national intelligence by President Barack Obama in 2010. His resignation is part of the transition to a new presidency. The current administration has asked all Obama appointees to submit their letters of resignation by early December. They'll serve until January 20, unless President-elect Donald Trump asks them to stay on.