A new bipartisan report by the House Intelligence Committee depicts former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden as a “serial exaggerator and fabricator” who only began downloading highly classified documents after being reprimanded over a “workplace spat” with his bosses.
The highly damning report, which accuses Snowden of doing “tremendous damage to national security,” was released by the committee late Thursday — the day before the release of a new Oliver Stone movie about the case that portrays its subject as a courageous whistleblower who exposed frightening and illegal surveillance by the U.S. government.
It also comes the same week that Snowden’s supporters mounted a public campaign to win him a pardon from President Obama, allowing him to return from Moscow without facing a criminal prosecution that could result in years behind bars. It is a request that the White House has already rejected. (All members of the panel separately signed a letter urging Obama not to pardon Snowden.)
“Edward Snowden is no hero — he’s a traitor who willfully betrayed his colleagues and his country,” said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the committee chairman. “He put our service members and the American people at risk after perceived slights by his superiors. In light of his long list of exaggerations and outright fabrications detailed in this report, no one should take him at his word.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, the panel’s ranking Democrat, told Yahoo News that the report was the product of a two-year investigation of Snowden’s conduct that uncovered new details about his theft of government documents. “I learned things, this was quite exhaustive,” Schiff said in a telephone interview. “The thing that leapt out to me — and I’m glad we can now disclose it — is that the vast majority of what he took had nothing to do with civil liberties. They were military and defense” documents, he said, that harmed national security.
Snowden’s lawyer, Ben Wizner, immediately denounced the release as a “dishonest report that attempts to discredit a genuine American hero. After years of ‘investigation,’ the committee still can’t point to any remotely credible evidence that Snowden’s disclosures caused harm,” he said. “The truth is that Edward Snowden and the journalists with whom he worked did the job that the House Intelligence Committee was supposed to do: bring meaningful oversight to the U.S. intelligence community. They did so responsibly and carefully, and their efforts have led to historic reforms.”
Glenn Greenwald, one of the first journalists to receive documents from Snowden, immediately ridiculed the report on Twitter: “BREAKING: Government officials dislike those who expose their illegal surveillance and trigger global debate about their surveillance.” (For his part, Snowden mounted his own rebuttal on Twitter, disputing some of the report’s connections and suggesting that the report was designed to “discourage you from going to see” the Stone movie.)
The full 36-page report by the committee remains classified, although Schiff said the panel intends to ask the office of the director of National Intelligence to declassify it so it can be made public. But a three-page executive summary released by the panel seeks to recast the narrative that has been shaped by Snowden’s supporters and is expected to gain wide exposure through the Stone movie. Significantly, however, the executive summary makes no claim that Snowden was a spy or “an agent of influence” of Russian or Chinese intelligence, as some former U.S. intelligence officials have alleged.
Perhaps the most surprising new claims in the report relate to Snowden’s work history as an NSA contractor and, before that, as a CIA employee. Snowden was “repeatedly counseled by his managers regarding his behavior at work,” the report states. It asserts that in June 2012, Snowden became involved in a “fiery email argument” with one of his supervisors about how computer updates should be managed. Snowden then copied a NSA senior executive several levels above to the email thread — “an action that earned him a swift reprimand from his contracting officer for failing to follow the proper protocol for raising grievances through the chain of command.”
It was two weeks after that, the report states, that Snowden began his massive downloading of classified documents from NSA computers. The timeline in the report would seem to undercut one of the episodes portrayed in the Stone movie: The film suggests that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s false testimony to the Senate — denying that the NSA collected information about American citizens — was among the motivations that prompted Snowden to act. (The film shows Snowden watching the testimony in disgust.) In fact, the report points out, that testimony by Clapper was given in March 2013 — nine months after Snowden began downloading his material. (In one of his Twitter rebuttals, Snowden calls the report’s claims “false” and appears to claim his initial downloads were authorized.)
The report summary also disputes Snowden’s contention that he was careful about the government documents he leaked, giving only a select portion to “responsible” journalists so they could screen them and make sure those that were released did not do any actual damage to national security.
“Snowden insists he has not shared the full cache of 1.5 million classified documents with anyone; however, in June 2016, the deputy chairman of the Russian parliament’s defense and security committee publicly conceded that ‘Snowden did share intelligence’ with his government.”
The intelligence committee has carried out multiple reviews to assess the damage caused by Snowden’s disclosures, according to the report. Even by a conservative estimate, it says, “the U.S. Government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars and will eventually spend billions, to attempt to mitigate the damage Snowden caused.”
Disputing Snowden’s contention that he was a whistleblower, the committee said that it “found no evidence that Snowden took any official effort to express concerns about U.S. intelligence activities — legal, moral, or otherwise, noting that he never took his purported concerns about government surveillance to any oversight officials within the U.S. Government, despite numerous avenues for him to do so.” (Snowden has said that he knew that any such protests over highly classified programs would have been shut down before they saw the light of day.) The report also asserts that Snowden “failed basic annual training for NSA employees” on conducting overseas surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and then “complained the training was rigged to be overly difficult.”
Finally, the report accuses Snowden of misleading his colleagues and compromising their privacy. “To gather the files he took with him when he left the country for Hong Kong… he obtained his colleagues’ security credentials through misleading means, abused his access as a systems administrator to search his co-workers’ personal drives, and removed the personally identifiable information of thousands of IC [Intelligence Community] employees and contractors,” the report states.