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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 24th, 2013 @ 10:10am

    The US is obsessed with terrorism. They are held hostage by it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    weneedhelp (profile), Dec 24th, 2013 @ 10:18am


    Its just the catalyst. It really has nothing to do with stopping "terrorists." Terrorism... communism... just another ism to exploit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    out_of_the_cornhole, Dec 24th, 2013 @ 10:23am

    they won

    Obviously the terrorists have won, yay America!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    out_of_the_blue, Dec 24th, 2013 @ 10:26am

    "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.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 24th, 2013 @ 10:31am

    File this under see-we-don't-really-the-nsa-i-told-you-so-nanana.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 24th, 2013 @ 10:33am

    “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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 24th, 2013 @ 11:19am

    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!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    DM, Dec 24th, 2013 @ 11:49am

    Mr. Clapper...

    Mr. Clapper has publicly proven himself to be an inattentive, and untrustworthy person, incapable of being truthful to his employers. Any news story parroting anything he may have to say is not worth the screen space the print occupies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Dec 24th, 2013 @ 11:49am

    The reason why Clapper isn't concerned about terrorists changing tactics after the Snowden leaks is they were not using the technology in the first place. Makes you wonder what the system is really meant for.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 24th, 2013 @ 12:56pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 24th, 2013 @ 6:05pm

    Terrorists don't use Gmail, they use Gmule.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 25th, 2013 @ 4:05am

    "The basic structure of the Internet itself is now in question, as [...] U.S. technology giants including Google, Microsoft and Yahoo take extraordinary steps to block the collection of data by their government."

    Really? What a bull shit journalism.

    No wonder they dumped this garbage on Bezos.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 27th, 2013 @ 7:48am

    Terrorists want to scare the government and the people. By freaking out and flushing our constitutional rights down the toilet, we let them win.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Pragmatic, Jan 3rd, 2014 @ 7:24am


    Keeping "we the people" in check.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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