James Clapper’s Latest Effort To Fearmonger about Snowden’s Damage

In addition to getting him to admit the US can’t fix the Middle East but we have to stay because our “leadership” is needed there, in this column David Ignatius asked James Clapper, again, about how much damage Edward Snowden has caused.

Clapper said the United States still can’t be certain how much harm was done to intelligence collection by the revelations of disaffected National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. “We’ve been very conservative in the damage assessment. Overall, there’s a lot,” Clapper said, noting that the Snowden disclosures made terrorist groups “very security-conscious” and speeded the move to unbreakable encryption of data. And he said the Snowden revelations may not have ended: “The assumption is that there are a lot more documents out there in escrow [to be revealed] at a time of his choosing.”

Let’s unpack this.

Clapper provides two pieces of evidence for damage:

  1. Snowden disclosures have made terrorist groups “very security-conscious”
  2. Snowden disclosures have “speeded the move” [by whom, it’s not entirely clear] to unbreakable encryption

That’s a bit funny, because what we saw from the terrorist cell that ravaged Paris and Belgium was — as The Grugq describes it — “drug dealer tradecraft writ large.” Stuff that they could have learned from watching the Wire a decade ago, with a good deal of sloppiness added in. With almost no hints of the use of encryption.

If the most dangerous terrorists today are using operational security that they could have learned years before Snowden, then his damage is not all that great.

Unless Clapper means, when he discusses the use of unbreakable encryption, us? Terrorists were already using encryption, but journalists and lawyers and US-based activists might not have been (activists in more dangerous places might have been using encryption that the State Department made available).

Neither of those developments should be that horrible. Which may be why Clapper says, “We’ve been very conservative in the damage assessment” even while insisting there’s a lot. Because this is not all that impressive, unless as Chief Spook you think you should have access to the communications of journalists and lawyers and activists.

I’m most interested, however, in this escrow idea.

“The assumption is that there are a lot more documents out there in escrow [to be revealed] at a time of his choosing.”

Snowden and Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras and Bart Gellman have said about a zillion times that Snowden handed everything off before he went to Russia. And everyone who knows anything about Russia would assume if he brought documents there, Putin has had them for almost 3 years.

Sure, there are surely documents that reporters have that, reviewed in the future by other people, may result in new disclosures. But the suggestion that Snowden himself is asking the journalists to hold back some of the documents “in escrow” is rather curious. Why would Snowden withhold documents until such time that the technology behind disclosures would be out of date.

I mean, it’s useful as a basis to claim that Snowden will continue to damage the IC when there’s actually not that much evidence he already has. But it doesn’t make much sense to me.

Ah well. In the article Clapper says he’ll be around for 265 days, which means around February 9 of next year, someone else will take up fearmongering about Edward Snowden.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

8 replies
  1. Trevanion says:

    We need to start a lottery as to the number of months after that liar retires when we will learn that Snowden was not the first to walk away with documents, only the first to do so for the sake of citizenry knowledge rather than a payday from foreigners.

    • George Capehart says:

      Manning was there /*way*/ before Snowden . . . In his online chats with Adrian Lamo, Manning said that one of the reasons she decided to trust Julian Assange and Wikileaks was that she noticed that Wikileaks has posted 500,000 pager messages covering the 24-hour period around the 9/11 attack. In her words: “I immediately recognized that they were from an NSA database, and I felt comfortable enough to come forward . . .”

      So she had been poking around the NSA network for a year or so as well as JWICS and SIPRNet. It’s just that her focus was on the State Department cables . . .

      At best, Clapper is completely clueless. At worst he is criminally negligent. And I don’t believe he’s clueless. He has been and is being way too disingenuous to be completely clueless. I can’t help but believe that there is a bit of the red herring in some of what he says . . . I think he’s smart enough to realize that he could be spending his retirement in Kansas if the whole story came unraveled . . .

  2. Dan Devine says:

    If he’s so (honestly) concerned about future damage, it could mean that there’s even more to the story than we already know. You may be correct in thinking that he’s keeping the spectre alive in support of continued USG pressure on Snowden, it might also be that we really don’t know the full extent of how much we’ve all been powned.

  3. allan says:

    You might be reading too much into Clapper’s use of `escrow’.
    It was simply the least untruthful word he could think of.

  4. martin says:

    Unless I’ve missed something…the only thing this scum sucking prick is worried about is the “dooms day”release Greenwald spoke of once. You know…should the USG do something really really stupid. Which means there IS something really really dangerous to the USG should it happen. Which also means..the IC is doing something completely off the scale of illegality, notwithstanding could possibly cause a complete social upheaval of insurrection proportions. If not Clappers and others in the USG to be sent to prison.

    Btw…wouldn’t that be fucking hoot! I’d give up my entire SS future to see this maggot in prison, and Snowden come home to a hero’s parade.

  5. P J Evans says:

    Since it’s been three years – shouldn’t they have a good handle by now on what, if any, damage was done by Snowden’s documents? Or are they planning to use it as an excuse for continuing to increase (illegal, mostly, and useless) surveillance for the next ten or twelve years?

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Mr. Clapper seems a little slow. Violent extremists have been security conscious since the days of the Czar’s secret police, Meyer Lansky and Al Capone. Bin Laden rarely used digital comms, and never from where he was staying. The movement toward privacy-enabling personal encryption predates Snowden. His disclosures about the government’s secret, intrusive, highly profitable and unrelated-to-national security surveillance boosted an already existing movement. Mr. Clapper knows that. He’s blowing smoke; as always, Ignatius is inhaling.

  7. Ian says:

    EMPTYWHEEL(Marcy) says:
    Sure, there are surely documents that reporters have that, reviewed in the future by other people, may result in new disclosures. But the suggestion that Snowden himself is asking the journalists to hold back some of the documents “in escrow” is rather curious. Why would Snowden withhold documents until such time that the technology behind disclosures would be out of date
    I SAY:
    Marcy you got that exactly right.
    One of those “other people” who would like to review the exact files that Ed Snowden handed over is [American author] JAMES BAMFORD [*] who interviewed Mr Snowden in Moscow in 2014 and was interviewed by the British IT Specialist News Source COMPUTER WEEKLY (www.computerweekly.com) (USA=Computer World) in the 19 January 2016 edition.
    While Bamford has concluded the actual number of documents/files left by Mr Snowden with the reporters was more likely to be of the order of 200,000 than Washington’s “it’s the end-of-world” estimate of 1.7m he also doesn’t believe there is anything to be gained by asking Mr Snowden in Russia for yet more documents—all those available are already in “the West”
    Relevant extracts include:
    “Still more to learn from Snowden:
    Bamford thinks there is still a huge amount to learn from the Snowden documents. US government estimates that the cache amounted to some 1.7 million documents, but Bamford believes 200,000 is nearer the mark.
    “There’s a lot more there. And even the documents that have come out really haven’t been thoroughly analysed. One reason is because they’ve come out in so many different places, the Guardian, Der Spiegel, Dutch newspapers and Brazilian places. So, nobody’s really consolidated all that.”
    After dedicating his life to researching the NSA, Bamford says his disclosures are dwarfed by the contents of the Snowden archive.
    “I’ve written about the NSA for 30 years, and I couldn’t imagine most of the stuff that’s come out from Snowden,” he says.”
    The full interview is at:
    [*] Bamford was the author of the original study on the NSA published as the 1982 book THE PUZZLE PALACE–.
    US edition ISBN #: 0140067485 (September 29, 1983)
    UK original edition (ISBN # 0395312868 September 23,1982)
    The British connection for BAMFORD is quite strong as the front cover of the 1st edition of the British edition is an image of 1 of the [2016= 30+ ]satellite dishes -without its ‘golf ball” covers/weather radome covers of Menwith Hills, Yorkshire, England—–from 1963-1996? [i.e. the international satellite communication era]—then the USA’s largest single “electronic intelligence gathering facility” in the world.
    The reason for a site in Yorkshire, England of course is the inability of ANY site in the USA “seeing” a satellite operating over European Russia, or Africa or much of the Asian continent.

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