Leaks from the former NSA contractor have been so illuminating that experts say they mark a turning point in U.S. intelligence operations.
By Ken Dilanian
Los Angeles Times, December 22, 2013
WASHINGTON — After news reports that the National Security Agency had secretly monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone calls, America’s top intelligence official was asked why congressional oversight committees were kept in the dark.
Shouldn’t Congress have been briefed, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) asked James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, about a spying operation that would embarrass the U.S. government if exposed?
“Well, sir, there are many things we do in intelligence that, if revealed, would have the potential for all kinds of blowback,” Clapper replied at a House Intelligence Committee hearing in October. “The conduct of intelligence is premised on the notion that we can do it secretly, and we don’t count on it being revealed in the newspaper.”
Not these days.
Clapper and his colleagues now operate in a spy world reshaped by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who claims responsibility for what officials deem the largest and most damaging compromise of classified information in U.S. history. Among the casualties is the assumption that some of the nation’s most carefully guarded secrets will stay secret.
NSA officials say Snowden downloaded and removed about 1.7 million documents from computer networks at an NSA listening post in Hawaii where he worked until June. The haul included about 2,000 specific requests for NSA surveillance that officials say make up a digital road map of spying successes and gaps in such high-profile targets as Iran, Russia, North Korea and China.
The requests have not been made public. But other leaks from Snowden’s cache have been so illuminating that experts say the disclosures will mark a turning point in U.S. spying, much as revelations of CIA assassinations and NSA domestic spying led to creation of the congressional oversight committees and new laws in the 1970s.
At least some change appears inevitable. In just the last week, events produced “a seismic shift in the movement for real surveillance reform,” said Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a critic of NSA programs.
Phi Beta Iota: This is not a turning point. Congress is too complacent and the US Intelligence Community leadership is too arrogant. We need one more really big ball-busting disclosure.