Tester: Actually, Snowden’s leak didn’t damage national security

posted at 3:21 pm on June 12, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

We’ve heard plenty of outrage over Edward Snowden’s leak of NSA activities as treason, and passionate defenses of him as a hero for crippling the surveillance state.  How about Edward Snowden … nothingburger? Senator Jon Tester appeared on MSNBC to rebut Peter King’s contention that reporters should be prosecuted for cases like these, in which leaks damage national security.  Rather than oppose King on First Amendment grounds, Tester says that Snowden’s leaks didn’t actually do that much damage:

“The information that they wrote about was just the fact that NSA was doing broad sweeps of foreign and domestic phone records, metadata. First of all, Snowden probably shouldn’t have done what he did. But the fact of the matter is is I don’t see how that compromises the security of this country whatsoever,” Tester said.  ”And quite frankly, it helps people like me become aware of a situation that I wasn’t aware of before because I don’t sit on that Intelligence Committee.”

No, but Tester does sit on the Homeland Security Committee, which exercises oversight on the kind of domestic intelligence collection that presumably would be a customer of the NSA under certain circumstances.  Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Secret Service, and TSA all exist within DHS.  NSA capabilities never came up once as part of DHS oversight? If so, that probably works in NSA’s defense, but what about all of the intel-law enforcement dot-connecting for which the DHS consolidation was intended?

If exposing a top-secret program doesn’t do damage to national security, then why was it classified so tightly to begin with?  As Politico notes, there is a general rule about classification levels, which are calculated on the basis of how much damage exposure will do:

There are three basic levels of security clearance in the U.S. intelligence community: confidential, secret and top secret. In a touch of irony, given Snowden’s leak, those classification levels are based on how much damage would be done to national security if the information they cover were improperly revealed.

Confidential material, if leaked, could be “reasonably expected to cause some measurable damage to the national security.” Secret material could cause “serious damage” to national security, and top secret information is classified as having the potential to cause “exceptionally grave damage to the national security” if revealed.

As of October 2012, 4.91 million people held U.S. security clearances. About 71 percent of them hold the lower confidential or secret clearances, and the rest have top secret clearances, according to an annual report to Congress by the director of national intelligence.

There are other clearances that are task- or organization-centric too; this is a bit simplified, but communicates the general principle used in classifying material.  If revealing the existence of PRISM and some of its operations didn’t damage national security — say, by allowing enemies to work around it — then it shouldn’t have been classified in the first place.  It should have been made transparent to Congress and the American people so that we can have the “debate” Obama claimed to want this week, and which he provided in 2007-8 — if Tester is correct.

The number of cleared personnel have increased by more than 200,000 since October 2010. The number cleared at TS has dropped, though, from 1.436 million in October 2010 to 1.409 million last October.  That suggests that we’re lowering classifications on some efforts while expanding them overall.  Either way, Congress should spend some time looking at the scope of classifications and think about forcing a little more transparency.

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It doesn’t damage it because they’re not stopping it.

In this age you can’t not do communications without going through a data network that the NSA is monitoring. Al Queda has already claimed its shifting its communications… To what?! Ravens?!

The only “damage” that will occur is if this gets shut down.

It won’t.

Skywise on June 12, 2013 at 3:26 PM

It illuminates the insecurity of pols on both sides of the aisle.

Capitalist Hog on June 12, 2013 at 3:29 PM

If exposing a top-secret program doesn’t do damage to national security, then why was it classified so tightly to begin with?

Because it would do damage to something other than National Security.

Like a government’s credibility.

MadisonConservative on June 12, 2013 at 3:31 PM

And yet Faux news cuts away from coverage of the Senate hearing to give continuous coverage of a couple of window washers stuck 25 feet below the top of a building.

0bama cheers.! “Thanks for the distraction!!!!”

LegendHasIt on June 12, 2013 at 3:31 PM

Let the CYA begin.

Bishop on June 12, 2013 at 3:32 PM

I was worried that without these programs two immigrant brothers could hang out on jihadi websites, have one of them be identified as suspected potential terrorist by a foreign gov’t, and yet go one to commit a terror attack using homemade bombs.

Lou Budvis on June 12, 2013 at 3:32 PM

[Lou Budvis on June 12, 2013 at 3:32 PM]

Ping … Ping … ping ….

Or not!

Dusty on June 12, 2013 at 3:41 PM

I welcome our overlords. Please, do anything you want.

John the Libertarian on June 12, 2013 at 3:42 PM

Lou Budvis on June 12, 2013 at 3:32 PM

Y’know, because government is so efficient n’ stuff.

John the Libertarian on June 12, 2013 at 3:43 PM

O/T: Secret Service Raids Home of Twitter User for… Critical Tweets About Obama?

I agree with Ace. We need to wait for more information but if this report is true…would you really be surprised? That alone should sum up the state of things.

joekenha on June 12, 2013 at 3:44 PM

What I would like to ask Edward Snowden is this: Was the Obama campaign data collection program named Project Narwhal a bootleg copy of NSA software and did it tap into the same data streams?

meci on June 12, 2013 at 3:45 PM

I was worried that without these programs two immigrant brothers could hang out on jihadi websites, have one of them be identified as suspected potential terrorist by a foreign gov’t, and yet go one to commit a terror attack using homemade bombs.

Lou Budvis on June 12, 2013 at 3:32 PM

Easy the brothers weren’t registered Republicans.

meci on June 12, 2013 at 3:47 PM

What I would like to ask Edward Snowden is this: Was the Obama campaign data collection program named Project Narwhal a bootleg copy of NSA software and did it tap into the same data streams?

meci on June 12, 2013 at 3:45 PM

This is where I think the scandal will ultimately end. Nearly all of the other scandals have one thing in common: Barack Obama’s reelection. Why would the NSA scandal be any different?

joekenha on June 12, 2013 at 3:48 PM

I don’t trust anyone in government. Elected, Appointed, Democrat, Republican, Independent, man or woman, any branch of government, any pay grade.

They are ALL self-serving ideologues.

So have all the hearings and testimonials you want. It’s all BS as far as I’m concerned.

fogw on June 12, 2013 at 3:49 PM

Snow is black.

Schadenfreude on June 12, 2013 at 3:51 PM

Breaking at Drudge.

CIA Deputy Director Mike Morrell resigns.

wyntre on June 12, 2013 at 3:53 PM

Watching the Alexander hearing…we’re all a bunch of uneducated bumpkins…our ruling class says this is much more complicated than we can understand. We’ve been saved from dozens of attacks and we only give up a little of our privacy.

d1carter on June 12, 2013 at 3:55 PM

I wonder what they had on Morrell…?

d1carter on June 12, 2013 at 3:57 PM

There’s no way this did “damage” to our security. If you’re a terrorist, or known terrorist you can expect that the US government will be looking into your communications. (Boston – maybe not so much) There’s no surprise there.

The only reason this was classified, was to avoid the horrible backlash they’d receive from the general public, when the extent of the dragnet became known.

Hill60 on June 12, 2013 at 4:00 PM

Senator Landrieu is interested in what pork she is getting out of NSA…

d1carter on June 12, 2013 at 4:00 PM

Hey NSA, since y’all claim to work for “national” security and not as an intimidation service of the thug,
can you locate the 12 or 15 or 20 million illegals who live and commit crimes in this country ?

burrata on June 12, 2013 at 4:00 PM

Mikulsky responds to a tweet from Rosie Gray during the hearing…?

d1carter on June 12, 2013 at 4:01 PM

If exposing a top-secret program doesn’t do damage to national security, then why was it classified so tightly to begin with?

Because it’s probably being used to investigate ordinary Americans, not terrorists. Well, unless you define anyone who votes Republican as a “terrorist.”

That’s why I doubt it matters too much if Snowden talks to China or Russia or whomever about this program and why all this hysterical talk about him being a “traitor” for exposing the Obama administration’s unconstitutional behavior seems overblown, to say the least.

Doomberg on June 12, 2013 at 4:01 PM

CIA deputy director Michael Morell resigns – one rat down, tip of iceberg!!!

Schadenfreude on June 12, 2013 at 4:01 PM

Morrell resigns effective August 9

wyntre on June 12, 2013 at 4:02 PM

If exposing a top-secret program doesn’t do damage to national security, then why was it classified so tightly to begin with?

Because it would do damage to something other than National Security.

Like a government’s credibility.

MadisonConservative on June 12, 2013 at 3:31 PM

Yessir. That’s why a even a broad ,opaque and “secure” description of this program was kept from us.

This is not the country I thought it was. I don’t think there can be any disagreement now – this is a de facto single-party state.

BoxHead1 on June 12, 2013 at 4:03 PM

d1carter,

Kudos to you for hanging in with the cybersecurity hearing. I couldn’t stand it. It was like watching paint dry.

Don’t know what they have on Morrell but wish/hope similar dirt will be found on Holder, Rice, ValJar, Powers and ultimately the POS.

wyntre on June 12, 2013 at 4:04 PM

Is him giving US secrets to China considered treason?

http://www.businessinsider.com/snowden-us-has-been-hacking-china-2013-6

stingray9813 on June 12, 2013 at 4:04 PM

An interesting reaction to the congressional NSA Briefing yesterday.

Commenter S wrote about Loretta Sanchez’s take:

“I happened to catch Loretta Sanchez on Washington Journal…she was trying to be as forthright as she could…paraphrasing and basically she talked about how difficult it is to understand anything of what the intelligence community asks for…

their budgets are convoluted extremely difficult to understand and she said that often the congress has no idea where the money is going…(not excusing them, but here is a big red flag)

she said trying to understand or ask the right questions to the NSA and the intelligence community is like trying to find a “needle in a haystack”

the Congress does not get answers to their questions…when they even are afforded the opportunity to formulate the question…

she described the process of even trying to get security questions answered…the congressional representative has to request and reserve a private, I think she called it a “shiff” room…then you have to get the intelligence official you need to ask the question to agree to meet you at that room at an agreed upon time…

I believe she said you get one half hour (not sure about that part) and she said you cannot take any notes or bring anything in with you when you go to the meeting…

then she went on that once you finally get to that point and have this arranged meeting, the intelligence officials start taking up a lot of the time talking and deflecting from the questions you are specifically asking them

she said … when talking to the intelligence officials, whether in front of the congress or in that special arranged meeting, they always fall back on the default answer “that is being investigated and they cannot talk about it” and variations on that answer…so they never give an answer…

she said the budget for intelligence has steadily increased and the Congress really has no way of knowing where the money is going…”

Sounds exactly like a POS press conference or the daily WH Briefing.

wyntre on June 12, 2013 at 4:07 PM

DiFi wants to give the tech companies cover for liablitity for spying on all their customers at the request of our government?

d1carter on June 12, 2013 at 4:08 PM

Any pointed question, is answered by the need to discuss this in classified hearing to follow.

d1carter on June 12, 2013 at 4:09 PM

They want to tell us about this program, but they just can’t because if they do terrorists….

d1carter on June 12, 2013 at 4:15 PM

d1carter,

Breitbart says:

UPDATE: At the start of Wednesday’s hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Chair Sen. Barbara Mikulski announced she has agreed to Vice-Chair Sen. Richard Shelby’s request to have a full hearing on revelations about NSA surveillance and its PRISM data-mining program.

The previously scheduled hearing, as a result, will focus on cyber-security issues generally and will not address the recent scandal. Gen. Alexander will face Senators’ questions about the programs another day. More updates below.

wyntre on June 12, 2013 at 4:16 PM

Hiring contractors for this work needs to be reviewed…now he tells us.

d1carter on June 12, 2013 at 4:17 PM

About to move to a “closed” hearing…

d1carter on June 12, 2013 at 4:27 PM

Rand Paul just finished doing an interview with Neil Cavuto. Says he was aware of the surveillance program over a year ago, but couldn’t speak about it because it was classified. So much for the theory that Snowden could have just taken his information to Rand Paul.

HarryBackside on June 12, 2013 at 4:28 PM

Edward Snowden: US government has been hacking Hong Kong and China for years

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1259508/edward-snowden-us-government-has-been-hacking-hong-kong-and-china

stingray9813 on June 12, 2013 at 4:31 PM

If exposing a top-secret program doesn’t do damage to national security, then why was it classified so tightly to begin with?

There was a re-election coming up? Now that he’s already won, it really can’t do much damage. To him.

DrAllecon on June 12, 2013 at 4:41 PM

If exposing a top-secret program doesn’t do damage to national security, then why was it classified so tightly to begin with?

And once exposed, why didn’t the NSA argue the legitimacy of the program based on the facts? They’re absorbing mass quantities of data but there is nothing about what they do with that data after they collect it. How long they hold it. Who they share it with (OFA anybody?). Etc. All of the things that would allay public concern are being stonewalled in the name of not discussing capability.

Happy Nomad on June 12, 2013 at 4:41 PM

Is him giving US secrets to China considered treason?

http://www.businessinsider.com/snowden-us-has-been-hacking-china-2013-6

stingray9813 on June 12, 2013 at 4:04 PM

I’ll bet that was a real news flash to the Chinese.

Solaratov on June 12, 2013 at 5:06 PM

“The information that they wrote about was just the fact that NSA was doing broad sweeps of foreign and domestic phone records, metadata.”

True – Snowden really hasn’t leaked any info as far as I’ve seen, he just exposed the fact that the government is engaged in massive and unprecedented spying on innocent Americans.

whatcat on June 12, 2013 at 5:24 PM

Snowden was just being a patriotic American even per Obama’s DHS head Napalitano – “If you see something, say something”.

VorDaj on June 12, 2013 at 5:26 PM

Snowden was just being a patriotic American even per Obama’s DHS head Napalitano – “If you see something, say something”.
VorDaj on June 12, 2013 at 5:26 PM

Or the whole Obama “fishy” scandal, where if your family, friends or neighbors criticize Obama the WH had a special email where you could report the dissidents.

whatcat on June 12, 2013 at 5:30 PM

I’ll bet that was a real news flash to the Chinese.

Solaratov on June 12, 2013 at 5:06 PM

*crickets*

Giving China US secrets… what a hero.

stingray9813 on June 12, 2013 at 5:44 PM

I’ll bet that was a real news flash to the Chinese.
Solaratov on June 12, 2013 at 5:06 PM

*crickets*
stingray9813 on June 12, 2013 at 5:44 PM

Oy. The snark went ZOOM over your head. Let me ‘splan it: the comment meant “The Chinese (like the Russians, North Koreans, etc.) already know the US has been hacking them”.

i.e., it’s not a news flash to them.
(i.e. means “in other words”)

whatcat on June 12, 2013 at 6:05 PM

News Flash: We don’t usually have American citizens giving the Chinese documents from our CIA…

stingray9813 on June 12, 2013 at 6:24 PM

News Flash: We don’t usually have American citizens giving the Chinese documents from our CIA…
stingray9813 on June 12, 2013 at 6:24 PM

You have more than a newflash with that bizarre claim – you got an exclusive scoop!

whatcat on June 12, 2013 at 6:35 PM

He still broke his oath. And he is still on the lamb. Innocent people don’t run.

Faramir on June 12, 2013 at 6:40 PM

And he is still on the lamb.
Faramir on June 12, 2013 at 6:40 PM

True – and here’s the photo that proves it.

whatcat on June 12, 2013 at 6:44 PM

No, but Tester does sit on the Homeland Security Committee

Intel, homeland security, Tester doesn’t know the diff.

Kissmygrits on June 12, 2013 at 6:50 PM

The number of cleared personnel have increased by more than 200,000 since October 2010. The number cleared at TS has dropped, though, from 1.436 million in October 2010 to 1.409 million last October.

Actually, the decrease in TS clearances was a money decision. As an Air National Guardsman with a TS, I know that last year there was an audit to downgrade the number of positions in the military with TS because it requires a reinvestigation every 5 years (vs. every 10 for a secret level) and the military is looking to save every nickel it can thanks to budget cuts.

Tremor on June 12, 2013 at 7:21 PM

He still broke his oath. And he is still on the lamb. Innocent people don’t run.

Faramir on June 12, 2013 at 6:40 PM

While I don’t disagree about the oath, an innocent man will run as hard, if not harder, than an innocent one if they don’t believe they will be given due process and equal protection.

Two of the Constitutional protections our government appears to have lost sight of.

EB

EdmundBurke247 on June 12, 2013 at 10:45 PM

As for Tester, the Bard was right. To paraphrase, there’s way too much denying for there not to be some truth in what is being reported.

How much truth is probably the operative question.

EdmundBurke247 on June 12, 2013 at 10:49 PM

wyntre on June 12, 2013 at 4:07 PM

she described the process of even trying to get security questions answered…the congressional representative has to request and reserve a private, I think she called it a “shiff” room…then you have to get the intelligence official you need to ask the question to agree to meet you at that room at an agreed upon time…

It’s called a SCIF. Special Compartmented Information Facility. It’s an environment with no external communications capability other than a closed-system encrypted network terminal, completely caged against RF radiation leakage, and sound-proofed.

If a congressman associated with an appropriate committee wants to question a person about classified details, they need only draft a congressional subpeona, and the person and facility will be made available to them with little to no red tape.

Unless, of course, we’re talking about the current Executive branch of government, and then there are a thousand reasons not to cooperate with the branch of government which bears oversight on exactly those activities.

Freelancer on June 12, 2013 at 10:59 PM

He still broke his oath. And he is still on the lamb. Innocent people don’t run.

Faramir on June 12, 2013 at 6:40 PM

That’s a nice fantasy. But once you’ve seen what he’s seen, you know how easy it is to find someone and render then in an unknown hole for an indefinite period of time. You can’t answer questions that way. Here’s the thing, this guy started out as a pro-Obama thinker, so he would have been unwilling to just turn himself in to a Republican Congressman. And since he’s become disillusioned with the current administration, he’s certainly not going to hand himself over to anyone even remotely tied to Eric Holder. So, to whom does he trust his life and liberty? I can understand his reasoning.

And the rest of us can arm-chair quarterback this thing all we want, we can’t know the situation as he did. Perhaps the best thing would have been for him to release the information proving the existence of an extra-Constitutional program to every member of every intelligence-related committee in both Houses. And had he done that, would the American public have ever learned about it?

Freelancer on June 12, 2013 at 11:06 PM

If only Tester would resign to spend more time with his family…

claudius on June 13, 2013 at 8:15 AM

Come to the dark side Tester, we have cookies.

Lothar on June 13, 2013 at 9:38 AM