It’s been two years since the very first news report in the Guardian based on documents provided by Ed Snowden. The NY Times (and other newspapers around the globe in varying languages) has published an op-ed by Snowden himself that gives a nice summary of how much has happened in the past two years, with real pushback finally starting to appear. As Snowden says:
The balance of power is beginning to shift. We are witnessing the emergence of a post-terror generation, one that rejects a worldview defined by a singular tragedy. For the first time since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we see the outline of a politics that turns away from reaction and fear in favor of resilience and reason. With each court victory, with every change in the law, we demonstrate facts are more convincing than fear. As a society, we rediscover that the value of a right is not in what it hides, but in what it protects.
And yet, on the same day, Jason Leopold has also published details of how Congress regularly leaked classified information in an effort to demonize Snowden and to make it look like his actions caused harm — something they still cannot show.
As you may recall, late in 2013, a talking point emerged that Snowden had made off with 1.7 million documents — many of which included military secrets. The number had changed a bunch. The first claim was 60,000 documents. Then 200,000. When 60 Minutes did an NSA puff piece in December of that year it had ballooned to 1.5 million documents. A few days later, politicians seemed to settle on 1.7 million documents — even as Glenn Greenwald (who actually had the documents) pointed out that it wasn’t even close to true.
As we, and many others, pointed out around then, the 1.7 million claim appeared to come based on faulty assumptions, with the big one being that he copied every document from every network he ever scanned. A few months later, after all the fuss died down, James Clapper finally admitted that the 1.7 million number was hogwash — but, by then, most of the press had moved on.
As Leopold’s reporting has turned up, however, Congressional Snowden-haters were really, really eager to use this claim of 1.7 million documents to “shift the story” on Snowden. They had received that number as a talking point in a DIA briefing and wanted to make use of it:
“Members from both sides (Reps. Richard Nugent, Austin Scott, Henry “Hank” Johnson, Jr. and Susan Davis) repeatedly pressed the [DIA] briefers for information from the [Snowden damage] report to be made releasable to the public,” states a February 6, 2014 DIA summary prepared for then-DIA director Lieutenant General Michael Flynn and deputy director David Shedd about a briefing on the Snowden leaks for members of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities.
“[Redacted] explained the restrictions were to [redacted] but the members appeared unmoved by this argument. Overall, HASC [House Armed Services Committee] members were both appreciative of the report and expressed repeatedly that this information needed to be shared with the American public.”
Of course, that didn’t stop Congress critters from leaking the data anyway:
On December 18, the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus published a column, citing anonymous sources, that contained details from the Snowden damage assessment. Three days earlier, 60 Minutes had broadcast a report that was widely condemned as overly sympathetic to the NSA. Foreign Policy and Bloomberg published news stories on January 9, 2014, three days after the damage assessment report was turned over to six congressional oversight committees. Both of those reports quoted a statement from Republican congressional leaders who cited the DIA’s classified damage assessment report and asserted that Snowden’s leaks endangered the lives of US military personnel.
Most of those came before the DIA released the number as an unclassified “talking point.”
And the documents also reveal that Congress seemed pretty focused on figuring out ways to “change the narrative” on Snowden, rather than actually assessing what Snowden took — and, apparently felt they could decide on their own which information in the briefing was classified and what was unclassified, so long as it served their own narrative:
During one classified briefing the damage assessment task force officials held for members of the House Intelligence Committee on Intelligence, lawmakers asked why Snowden, “who claims publicly to be seeking to reform NSA… acquired so many DoD files unrelated to NSA activities.”
“[Redacted] explained that [Snowden] appeared to have acquired all files he could reach” was the answer. House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers and Congressman Adam Schiff “raised the issue that most documents were DoD related — which [redacted] confirmed — and both the congressmen stated they believed this simple fact was both unclassified… and was important for changing the narrative” about Snowden, states an undated summary of the House Intelligence Committee briefing the DIA prepared for Flynn and Shedd.
And, thus, it appears many in Congress had no problem potentially leaking classified information to attack Snowden as a “traitor” for leaking classified information, even though the claims about what he leaked were not, in fact, true.