WASHINGTON — A classified Pentagon report concludes that leaks by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden have set back U.S. efforts against terrorism, cybercrime, human trafficking and weapons proliferation, leaders of the House Intelligence Committee say.
A damage assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency indicates most of the estimated 1.7 million classified documents that officials say Snowden copied from NSA computers involve U.S. military operations, said committee Chairman Mike D. Rogers (R-Mich.) and the ranking Democrat, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland.
Until now, the leaks have chiefly revealed NSA surveillance systems aimed at foreign governments and their leaders and at terrorism suspects in the U.S. and abroad. Military operations have largely escaped notice. But the NSA, which is part of the Pentagon, is both a combat support and intelligence agency.
The assessment, sent to the House and Senate intelligence committees Monday, described the preliminary conclusions of a task force set up to assess the impact of the leaks on the military.
Shawn Turner, a spokesman for James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, declined to discuss the report. But he said Snowden's disclosures had undermined national security.
"We've been clear that these leaks have been unnecessarily and extremely damaging to the United States and the intelligence community's national security efforts," he said in an email. "As a result of these disclosures, terrorists and their support networks now have a better understanding of our collection methods and, make no mistake about it, they are taking counter measures."
Rogers and Ruppersberger sought to dispel arguments that Snowden was legally and morally justified in exposing secret surveillance programs, including the bulk collection of U.S. telephone calling records.
"Snowden is no patriot, and there is no way to excuse the irreparable harm he caused to America and her allies, and continues to cause," Rogers said.
FBI Director James B. Comey echoed that condemnation in a separate meeting with reporters. He rejected any suggestion that Snowden is a whistle-blower and said he should return home from Russia, where he has sought refuge, to face federal felony charges, including espionage.
"I have trouble applying the whistler-blower label to someone who just disagrees with the way our country is structured and operates," Comey said.
Comey said Snowden's leaks about the NSA make up only "a small piece" of the data he copied, and that none of the material would lend him normal whistle-blower protection. None of the disclosures have revealed clear violations of the law.
Asked whether the FBI and federal prosecutors would be willing to bargain with Snowden for some kind of leniency if he agreed to return, Comey said that Snowden would have to surrender before any negotiations could begin.
With a presidential commission calling for more than 40 changes in intelligence operations and oversight because of Snowden's disclosures, President Obama spent a second day in a row focusing on the issue.
On Wednesday, Obama conferred with members of a privacy and civil liberties oversight board, and then with heads of the NSA, CIA and FBI, as well as Vice President Joe Biden, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. and other top aides. On Thursday, Obama met with 16 members of Congress who sit on the intelligence, judiciary and defense committees.
"It was a good dialogue. I think he is certainly in the mode of getting everyone's insights," said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), an intelligence committee member who attended Thursday's session.
White House aides will meet Friday with representatives from major technology companies to discuss the recommendations, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
"He's obviously close to the end of this review," Carney said, although he declined to discuss specifics. Obama is expected to announce proposals as soon as next week.
Obama is likely to recommend that an independent public advocate be appointed to represent privacy and civil liberties before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which meets in secret and hears only from government lawyers.
Aides say Obama also is eager to remove the vast archive of U.S. calling records from direct government control, although it's not yet clear how a replacement system would work.
Kathleen Hennessey in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun