James Clapper Admits In Private That He's Really Not Too Concerned About Terrorists Changing Communications After Snowden

from the faux-outrage dept

We already covered Barton Gellman’s fascinating interview with Ed Snowden, but there are some other interesting tidbits I wanted to cover in separate posts. In particular, Gellman reveals, via an anonymous source, that Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, has admitted in private that he’s not actually too concerned about terrorists changing their communications habits in the wake of the Snowden revelations. Basically, he recognizes that there are lots of ways to track and to find terrorists, and if they want to communicate efficiently, sooner or later they’re going to trip up and reveal themselves:

Clapper has said repeatedly in public that the leaks did great damage, but in private he has taken a more nuanced stance. A review of early damage assessments in previous espionage cases, he said in one closed-door briefing this fall, found that dire forecasts of harm were seldom borne out.

“People must communicate,” he said, according to one participant who described the confidential meeting on the condition of anonymity. “They will make mistakes, and we will exploit them.”

Of course, this is quite different than the influx of reports from reporters quoting “anonymous administration officials” in late June, who kept insisting that the NSA was somehow damaged beyond all belief because terrorists were changing how they communicated. That was clearly overblown from the very beginning for a variety of reasons. First, the serious terrorists already suspected any such communications systems were compromised and weren’t using them (see, for example, how bin Laden refused to use the internet at all). Second, the claim that officials knew terrorists had changed how they communicated showed that they were able to observe the new form of communication as well, suggesting no actual (or at least no significant) loss in ability to monitor.

Either way, it’s interesting to see confirmed what most of us knew: that Clapper and the other NSA defenders have known pretty much all along that Snowden didn’t do any real “harm,” but they had no problem fanning the flames of misleading claims to make him out to have caused serious damage.

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Comments on “James Clapper Admits In Private That He's Really Not Too Concerned About Terrorists Changing Communications After Snowden”

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out_of_the_blue says:

"some other interesting tidbits" -- So where are they?

And how many Snowden posts do you plan to get out of that near non-news, anyway? And will you be live-blogging this: “Snowden to give televised Christmas address…”?

Anyhoo, THIS item is actually clever because subtly plants the notion that really are terrorists around, when NSA just imagines such and the FBI creates them out of patsies. So as propaganda, you’ve spread it. Wish you’d quit re-writing from Establishment sources, WashPo here…

Techdirt’s motto: The confusion has become so complete that it’s beyond correction.


Anonymous Coward says:

?They will make mistakes, and we will exploit them.?

That’s exactly what the NSA should be doing. Targeting individuals of whom they have reasonable and articuable suspicion of. If they’re an American, get probable cause and a warrant. There are enough vulnerabilities out there that you don’t need to spy on the whole world to gather intelligence. Run TAO on known baddies and their associates. Keep records of all of these activities and do proper, meaningful oversight on a regular basis. Institutional power is loathe to give up any capabilities once it attains it, but when the capabilities don’t show any real value and only detriment to civil liberties and opportunities for abuse, the public must demand they be stopped.

Anonymous Coward says:

more importantly, they have all done as much as possible to take the eye off of what they have been and are still doing. the best form of defense is attack. they have attacked Snowden, made him out to have been a traitor and to have done tremendous harm that could jeopardize the American way of life. in actual fact, it’s them that have done the damage, but obviously wont admit it. even if they were called to account for what they have done, it wouldn’t stop them from sleeping soundly!

Anonymous Coward says:

Even when they were hunting Bin Laudin, it was demonstrated that Bin Laudin was already aware of the spying on electronic communications. He had no cell phone and no internet service.

When he wanted a message out into the public he sent a messenger with a USB thumb drive to get it out. It told you right away, the terrorists are aware their communications are monitored. That demonstrated they were already aware and had changed their methods. Any terrorist that desires security will not be using electronic communications themselves, they will be using a messenger. Those that do communicate won’t be who they are after, it will be the small fry willing to go do errands.

The whole business is not about terrorism despite the billing. Who is most likely to use and not worry about electronic communications regularly? It will be those who believe they have no reason to hide. What that tells you is these security agencies are seeing the public at large as the enemy.

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