Pentagon Report That Supposedly Shows How Much Harm Snowden Caused... Actually Shows No Such Thing

from the staggeringly-misleading dept

For a few months now, the NSA's defenders -- primarily Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and House Intelligence Committee boss Rep. Mike Rogers -- have been waving around a "classified" report from the Pentagon, concerning how much "damage" Snowden's leaks have caused. Rogers had put out a press release about the report as if it was proof of how much harm was caused -- and based on that release, people quickly realized that the claims of harm were based on two very questionable assumptions
  1. That everything Snowden "touched" while employed at the NSA, he took with him and gave to reporters -- amounting to something like 1.7 million documents.
  2. That all of those files are in the hands of America's adversaries
As many people have highlighted -- both of those claims are extremely questionable. Glenn Greenwald and Ewan Macaskill have both admitted publicly that Snowden only gave them around 60,000 documents.

Either way, the Guardian has a new report with a redacted version of the Pentagon's report, obtained via a FOIA request by FOIA champion Jason Leopold. Leopold wrote a summary of the report, noting that the Pentagon claims "the scope of the compromised knowledge related to US intelligence capabilities is staggering."

However, Julian Sanchez quickly pointed out that the Pentagon is playing word games. It's saying (as noted in our assumptions) that the scope of what Snowden touched is staggering, not the actual damage. As Sanchez points out:
The first thing to note is that the Pentagon report does not concern the putative harm of disclosures about the National Security Agency programs that have been the focus of almost all Snowden-inspired stories published to date. Rather, the Defense Intelligence Agency's damage assessment deals only with the potential impact of "non-NSA Defense material" that the government believes Snowden may have obtained. Any harm resulting from the disclosure of NSA-related material – in other words, almost everything actually made public thus far – is not included in this assessment.

In fact, the unredacted portions of the report don't discuss published material at all. Instead, the Pentagon was assessing the significance of the information "compromised" by Snowden – all the documents they believe he copied, whether or not they ever see the light of day.
As Sanchez notes, it absolutely makes sense for the US government to assess the possible damage from other possible leaks based on what Snowden has touched, but it's wholly irresponsible for politicians and the press to misrepresent the report as looking at the actual harm caused by the leaks to date. Because that's not what the report says at all.

In summary:
In short: the Pentagon damage report concludes that the "staggering" cache of documents that Snowden might have taken (most of which he probably didn't) could potentially cause grave harm if disclosed to a foreign power (which, as far as we know, they haven't been), and assumed that only genuinely super-sensitive information gets classified (which top intelligence officials concede isn't true).
And yet, Snowden's critics are totally misrepresenting the report to say things it clearly does not say.
Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: defense department, dod, ed snowden, harm, james clapper, mike rogers, pentagon

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    David, 23 May 2014 @ 8:12am

    Increasingly off-topic:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Sponsored Promotion
Public Money, Public Code - Sign The Open Letter at
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.