James Clapper Admits What Everyone's Been Saying For Months: Snowden Didn't Take 1.7 Million Documents

from the a-bit-slow dept

You know, you’d think that the “intelligence community” would be a bit more intelligent. As we’ve discussed many, many times, nearly all of the estimates of “harm” concerning Ed Snowden’s actions were based on the faulty assumption that he “took” (and revealed) every document he ever “touched” while at NSA — somewhere around 1.7 million (sometimes referred to as 1.5 million, but then upped to 1.7 million). Except that two of the reporters who got the documents, Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill, have both said from the very beginning that it was about 60,000.

And yet, NSA defenders keep insisting that he’s caused all of this harm because of what was in the 1.7 million documents… nearly all of which he did not take. Indeed, the much-hyped (by NSA defenders) Pentagon report on the “staggering harm” that Snowden has created doesn’t actually say that. It says it’s “staggering” how many documents he had access to, not that he took. Because the NSA, one year after the first Snowden revelation still has no idea how much he actually took (which certainly raises questions about their vaunted “auditing” of everything done at the agency).

In fact, James Clapper is now admitting that maybe Snowden didn’t take so much, and maybe the “harm” wasn’t as bad as he, himself, has been arguing:

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says it appears the impact may be less than once feared because “it doesn’t look like he [Snowden] took as much” as first thought.

“We’re still investigating, but we think that a lot of what he looked at, he couldn’t pull down,” Clapper said in a rare interview at his headquarters Tuesday. “Some things we thought he got, he apparently didn’t.” Although somewhat less than expected, the damage is still “profound,” he said.

In other words, exactly as pretty much all of us have been saying — all of the frantic FUD-filled estimates of “harm” were actually massively over-hyped based on faulty assumptions. And yet that never stopped Clapper, Mike Rogers, Keith Alexander, Dianne Feinstein and others from continuing to trot out those bogus numbers, even though tons of people had debunked them. And now that Clapper is finally admitting that he himself over-hyped the supposed “harm” and the documents that Snowden took, he acts as if he’s revealing some big news.

Amusingly, the report also claims that the DOD is also lowering its estimate of how much Snowden “touched” from 1.77 million (up from the 1.7 million they had been saying, actually) down to the 1.5 million which was the number they had been using back at the beginning of December anyway. It’s almost as if they actually have no idea and are just pulling numbers out of thin air.

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Comments on “James Clapper Admits What Everyone's Been Saying For Months: Snowden Didn't Take 1.7 Million Documents”

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Dave Xanatos (profile) says:

Re: This just in!

“We’re still investigating, but we think that a lot of what he looked at, he couldn’t pull down,”

Nice phrasing, that. The use of the work ‘couldn’t’ implies that “if only he could, he would have”, instead of a possible active choice by Snowden NOT to. The fact that he was viewing it seems to say he could, actually, ‘pull it down’.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: public consumption

I’m fairly certain that they have absolutely no clue. The number fluctuating around has made them look like morons and they have to know it by now.

This is an “intelligence” agency that has been compromised and they cannot even determine the extent of the compromise. I’m sure if they really knew it was 1,202,432 documents, they would be telling everyone that number just so they looked like they could figure SOMETHING out.

David says:

The danger *is* about the documents he had access to

The amount of danger that hit the NSA is about the number of documents that he had access to ever.

The main harm Snowden has done is not that other nations got to see what the NSA is doing, but rather what the U.S. got to see.

The pattern of damage that he inflicted consisted in full-mouthed statements and denials and assurances of the NSA before the American people followed by publications of documents that showed the NSA to be a bunch of ruthless liars and perjurers.

The NSA has to regain the trust of the public, and it would not do so by telling the public the whole ugly truth.

So they desperately need to tell a reassuringly large sequence of lies that will not promptly be disproven by subsequent publications.

As long as they don’t know which of the documents Snowden had access to are in the hands of the journalists, they cannot cook up a suitably consistent net of lies they can manage to stick to.

There is a saying something like “telling the truth is a poor copout from those with a bad memory”, and the NSA prouds itself of having perfect memory.

But it is much harder creating a new truth given 1.7?million unknowns than 60000.

If they knew exactly what was in the 60000, they could lie much more confidently and assertively.

So the damage is actually those 1.7?millions, because the most dangerous enemy are not other states, or terrorists, but the American public and Congress.

Without being secure against the American public and Congress, the NSA will not be able to provide help against external foes. And they still hope to bat better eventually than the flat zero they have to show so far.

Anonymous Coward says:

I am still amazed we are hearing about how much damage he caused and about how life threatening all these revelations are. Both Bush and Obama administrations have come right out and exposed active agents in the field, which certainly put an agent’s life more at risk than any of the Snowden documents exposed.

When you get to looking at what was revealed something else jumps up at you. Pretty much all I’ve seen looks like in house training documents. Not actual work files and data gathering raw files. Stuff that the NSA in house uses to inform and train their own people.

This should tell you a couple of things. One is there is no data there to expose life endangering events. The NSA itself has already vetted the data before it went into training materials. The second is that if it is deemed good enough for training materiel, one also has to assume it is fairly dead accurate as to what it exposes. Meaning that the government and the NSA has known all along just how damaging it really is in terms of agent endangerment and in terms of secret data exposed. They’ve just been lying as they go along hoping to find something… anything… to use as evidence of spying that could be used as traitor and not as whistle blower. That pretty much looks to be the whole purpose of denying and lying.

When one man has more creditability than the entire US government, that too should be speaking volumes. Just like pre-nazi Germany should have been able to see where they were headed just before it all happened.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

stop it !
stop looking for the old America in a system that is broken, perhaps beyond repair…
there is NO FAIRNESS, that is a memory…
there is NO JUSTICE, that is an illusion…
there is NO MORALITY, that is a for fools…

there is ONLY GREED, there is ONLY MIGHT, there is ONLY CRUELTY, there is ONLY WINNING, and ONLY 1% are WINNNERS, the rest are jealous whiners…
THAT is the matrix we live in, neo, no matter how much you wish it otherwise…

Anonymous Coward says:


Sorry for whining about semantics, but…

I expect Clapper’s choice of words that he “took” documents, and expect the MSM to repeat that.

My expectation of writers on this site is that they would choose the more accurate term, “copied”.

It’s not like he deleted the originals (then they might know how many).

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Semantics

I expect Clapper’s choice of words that he “took” documents, and expect the MSM to repeat that.

My expectation of writers on this site is that they would choose the more accurate term, “copied”.

“Took” is not inaccurate though. He took a copy of a document with him, and left a copy behind. I won’t argue with your assertion that “copied” is more accurate, but in this case it doesn’t strike me as important distinction.

Karl Mark says:

just some notions

If the system has many segments and each segment needs several levels password to access – How in the world he could get through all those and downloaded 1.7 millions of them without right time of spying skills and breakthrough software gadgets … it’s amazing with his intention for long long ie planning ….Why in’t he first ran to Nicaragua to harbor ut he had to run into China and Russia for protection an if thoe countres not benefited with information he gave he would be booted out long ago when he hadn’t any value to them …..IMHO

Anonymous Coward says:

no one could admit to what Snowden actually took, even if they knew. think of how ridiculous the security forces, NSA in particular, would have looked if they had admitted to what was actually taken. the next thing we’ll be reading is that had he have taken more, the public would be storming the White House and Congress demanding arses on spikes!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Surprised no one else has pointed out...

Based on this, we definitively know Snowden took copies of 1.7 million documents. Proof:

1: James Clapper is a frequent liar, an acknowledged liar, and a perjurer.
2: James Clapper says Snowden did not take copies of 1.7 million documents.
3: By (1), statements from James Clapper should be assumed untrue until proven otherwise.
4: By (2) and (3), Snowden must have taken copies of 1.7 million documents or James Clapper would not have said the opposite.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

So what's the true number? 42?

So now Clapper himself has exposed his lies for what they were, and in doing so, has exposed the truth: the NSA didn’t lose as much as they thought, and maybe those legal charges they’re trying to pin on Snowden should be down-graded.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t pursue the original charges..only that they’ve lost any impact with this admission.

And the way they got the numbers? Love that “fundamental orifice” comment above-but I’d say it blunter: out of their half-baked asses.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: It would last a week at most, but while it survived...

I’d like to suggest directly across the road from the NSA data-center in Utah, with a nice, large plaque reading ‘This is the face of someone who believes in, and supports, the spirit of the country, and the rights and freedoms that people have died to protect, more than any of you ever will.’

Anonymous Coward says:

Mr Masnick was recycling mainstream media whores’ bullshit, and now is surprised he did report bullshit himself.

While Clapper, as criminal liar, makes poor spokesperson, he is actually right. You never prove risk. Thus, you MUST assume 1.7m docs are in hands of enemy (and public too). Trick is, there may be some 50k only which Snowden copied (not stole!), but nobody knows which one. PBS Frontline piece had docs list shown scrolling fast, and seems from names and sequence of initial letters, that there are even fewer the 50k.

It gets worse: since he was working out of Geneva (world hotspot of spy activity) he was monitored by Russians, and likely Chinese ever since. So when he booked that flight to Hong Kong and checked in under his own name, his name popped on their monitors right away. On NSA’ too, but they created too fat and clumsy a system to notice on time.

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