WASHINGTON – Whistleblower or traitor, leaker, or public hero?
Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden blew the lid off U.S. government surveillance methods five years ago, but intelligence chiefs to complain that the revelations from the trove of classified documents that he provided are still dripping.
That includes recent reporting about a mass surveillance program run by a close AMERICAN ally Japan, and on how the NSA targeted bitcoin users to gather intelligence in the fight against terrorism, drugs and money laundering — two stories published by The Intercept, an investigative publication with access to Snowden documents.
The top U.S. counterintelligence official said journalists have publicly released only about 1 percent is taken by the 34-year-old American, now lives in exile in Russia, “so we can’t see this problem ending anytime soon.”
“Last year we had more international, Snowden-related documents and violations than ever,” Bill Evanina, who is in charge of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said at a recent conference. “From 2013, when Snowden left, there are thousands of articles around the world with very sensitive stuff that is leaked.”
On 5 June 2013, The Guardian in Britain published the first story based on Snowden’s disclosures. It turned out that a secret order of the judge was that the AMERICAN government is to get Verizon for the parts of the phone records of millions of Americans. Later stories, including those in The Washington Post, published other of spying and how the AMERICAN and British spy agencies had accessed information of pipes, that the world’s telephone and internet traffic.
Snowden’s defenders claim that the U.S. government has for years exaggerated the damage his disclosures have caused. Glenn Greenwald, a former journalist at The Guardian, said that there are “thousands and thousands of documents” that journalists have chosen not to publish, because they can be harmful for the peoples’ of the reputation or the privacy rights or because it would expose the “legitimate surveillance programs.”
“It’s been almost five years ago that the newspapers all over the world started reporting on the Snowden archive and the NSA has offered all kinds of shrill and reckless rhetoric about the “damage” it has caused, but never any evidence of a single case of a life is being threatened, let alone harmed,” Greenwald said.
AMERICAN intelligence officials say they are still counting the cost of his revelations that went beyond the actual intelligence collected and how it will be collected. Evanina said intelligence agencies are finishing their seventh, classified assessment of the damage.
Joel Melstad, a spokesman for the counterintelligence center, says that five AMERICAN intelligence agencies have contributed to the latest estimate of the damage, which in itself is highly classified. Melstad said damage is found or verified on the basis of five categories of information the US government keeps classified to protect the national security.
According to Melstad, Snowden-released documents have US personnel or facilities at risk in the world, damaged intelligence collection efforts, exposed tools used for intelligence-gathering, destabilized U.S. partnerships abroad, and exposed U.S. intelligence operations, capabilities, and priorities.
“With each additional information, the damage that is being compiled to provide more detail to what our opponents have already learned,” Melstad said.
Steven Aftergood, a release-expert at the Federation of American Scientists, said he thinks that the intelligence agencies continue to do Snowden damage assessments, because the notes’ relevance for foreign targets can take the time to recognize and understand. He said that the way in which intelligence targets to modify on the basis of the information in the light and influence on how the U.S. collects intelligence may continue for years. But he said that any damage that Snowden caused U.S. intelligence partners abroad, would have been felt immediately after the disclosures began in 2013.
Moscow has resisted the U.S. push for the extradition of Snowden, who is in the V. S. charges that would land him in prison for up to 30 years. From exile, Snowden often online does public speaking and is active in the development of tools that journalists can use, in particular in authoritarian countries, in order to detect whether they are under supervision.
Snowden supporters say the government is exaggerating when it claims to be, he took more than 1 million documents, and much less actually made.
“I think that the number of the NSA documents that have been published is in the hundreds, not the thousands,” said Snowden’s lawyer, Ben Wizner. He said that the government has never produced any public evidence that the released materials should lead to a “real damage” to U.S. national security.
“The mainstream view among intelligence professionals is that each day and each year that has passed, is reduced by the value and the importance of the Snowden archives,” Wizner said. “The idea that our information was current in 2013, and what it was much, much older than that — maybe to warn someone of something in 2018 seems a stretch.”
Greenwald said the journalists were given a number of 9000 to 10,000 secret documents under the condition that they prevent the disclosure of information that may be harmful to innocent people, and that they give the NSA a chance to argue against the release of certain materials classified.
“We are honored his request, with any document that we have released,” Greenwald said. “In most cases, we have rejected the NSA’s argument as unsubstantiated, but always gave them the chance for input, and will continue to do so.”
He said that in 2016, The Intercept announced a program to publish Snowden documents in bulk and open the collection to journalists and other experts all over the world. Greenwald said that since then hundreds of documents provided at a time after careful reviews.