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

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 May 2014 @ 8:39am

    Guilty until proven innocent

    This is just another fine example of the U.S. government assuming someone is guilty without any real proof.

    "He might have taken these, and he might have given them to our enemy, but... well... there's no evidence that any of that occurred."

    I see that they are increasingly treating the entire nation like this.

    We're assumed to be guilty of terrorism the minute we walk into an airport. We're assumed to be guilty the minute some copyright maximalist accuses us of infringement. We're assumed to be guilty if we so much as encrypt our communications, or turn on our cell phones.

    It can't go on like this - something is going to crack.

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