Edward Snowden's Explosive NSA LeaksHave US in Damage Control Mode
June 10, 2013
|Washington was struggling to contain one of the most explosive national security leaks in UShistory on Monday, as public criticism grew of the sweeping surveillance state revealed bywhistleblower Edward Snowden.Political opinion was split, with some members of Congress calling for the immediate extraditionof a man they consider a "defector" but other senior politicians from both parties questioningwhether US surveillance practices had gone too far.Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst who revealed secrets of the Vietnam war through theso-called Pentagon Papers in 1971, described Snowden's leak as even more important and perhaps the most significant leak in American history.In London, the British foreign secretary, William Hague, was forced to defend the UK's use of intelligence gathered by the US. Other European leaders also voiced concern.The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, is expected to grill Obama next week, during a much-awaited summit in Berlin. Peter Schaar, Germany's federal data protection commissioner, toldthe Guardian it was unacceptable for the US authorities to have access to EU citizens' data, andthat the level of protection is lower than that guaranteed to US citizens.In Washington, the Obama administration offered no indication on Monday about what itintended to do about Snowden, who was praised by privacy campaigners but condemned bysome US politicians keen for him to be extradited fromHong Kong and put on trial.The White House made no comment beyond a short statement released by a spokesman for theUS director of national intelligence on Sunday. Shawn Turner said Snowden's case had beenreferred to the Justice Department, and that US intelligence was assessing the damage caused bythe disclosures.
"Any person who has a security clearance knows that he or she has an obligation to protectclassified information and abide by the law," Turner said.Snowden disclosed his identity in anexplosive interview with the Guardian, published onSunday. He revealed he was a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and currentemployee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden worked at the NationalSecurity Agency for the past four years as an employee of various outside contractors, includingBooz Allen and Dell.He left for Hong Kong on 20 May. He chose Hong Kong because "they have a spiritedcommitment to free speech and the right of political dissent".In his interview, Snowden revealed himself as the source for a series of articles in the Guardianlast week, which included disclosures of a wide-ranging secret court order thatdemandedVerizon pass to the NSA the details of phone calls related to millions of customers, and a huge NSA intelligence system called Prism, which collects data onintelligence targets from the systems of some of the biggest tech companies.Snowden said he had become disillusioned with the overarching nature of governmentsurveillance in the US. "The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they areallowed to," he said."My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which isdone against them."Snowden drew support from civil liberty activists and organisations. Ellsbergwrote for theGuardian: "In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden's release of NSA material – and that definitely includes the PentagonPapers 40 years ago".Thomas Drake, a former NSA executive who famously leaked information about what heconsidered a wasteful data-mining program at the agency, said of Snowden: "He's extraordinarily brave and courageous."The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an internet rights group, called for a "new Churchcommittee" to investigate potential government infringements on privacy and to write new rules protecting the public. In the wake of the Watergate affair in the mid-1970s, a Senateinvestigation led by Idaho senator Frank Church uncovered decades of serious abuse by the USgovernment of its eavesdropping powers. The committee report led to the passage of the ForeignIntelligence Surveillance Act and set upthe Fisa courts that today secretly approve surveillancerequests.Both Snowden and the Obama administration appeared to be considering their options onMonday. Hong Kong is unlikely to offer Snowden a permanent refuge, but Snowden could buy
time by filing an asylum request, thanks to a landmark legal ruling that has thrown the systeminto disarray.For years, Hong Kong has relied on the United Nations refugee agency to handle the bulk of claims. But in March its court of final appeal ruled that the government must independentlyscreen cases. No system for processing the claims is yet in place.China-watchers also wonder if Beijing would wish to become publicly involved in such ahigh-profile case – particularly given China's doctrine of non-interference in other countries'domestic affairs, and that it comes days after a meeting between presidents Xi Jinping andBarack Obama, as the countries seek to improve bilateral relations.In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg cancelled at very short notice a planned photoopportunity with the Hong Kong chief executive, Leung Chun-ying. "It would have been acircus, so we decided to catch up with him another time," a mayoral spokesman told theGuardian.Shares in Snowden's employer, Booz Allen, fell on Monday by 61¢, or 3.4%, in midday trading,a slight recovery from a 5% drop earlier in the session.In a statement on Sunday, the company said it has employed Snowden for less than three monthson a team in Hawaii. It added that it is working with clients and authorities to investigate theleaks. "News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information areshocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and corevalues of our firm," the statement said.Booz Allen Hamilton is a consultant to government and corporate clients. About 23% of itsrevenue, or $1.3bn, came from US intelligence agencies last year. The company has said in SECfilings that security breaches could materially hurt results.Additional reporting by Matt Williams and Tom McCarthy in New York, and the AssociatedPress