Senators Question Intelligence Officials About Snowden, Domestic Surveillance

In a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss the public portions of a new national security threat assessment, top intelligence and law enforcement officials said that attacks against financial networks and the critical infrastructure are major threats to the United States’ security. But those threats, as serious as they may be, were not the ones that many of the committee members wanted to discuss. Instead, they were mainly interested in talking about Edward Snowden and the damage his disclosures may have caused to the country and its intelligence-gathering and security capabilities.

The committee, which ostensibly was there to discuss the intelligence community’s latest threat assessment, spent much of the hearing discussing Snowden’s disclosures, the need–or lack thereof–for intelligence reform and whether the leaks of the documents he stole have harmed the country’s security. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, and Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, both asserted that Snowden’s leaks have caused serious damage to U.S. security and placed the lives of soldiers and intelligence officers in danger.

Clapper, who has come under fire for his statements to Congress about the NSA’s collection of intelligence on Americans, called Snowden’s actions “the most massive and most damaging theft of intelligence information in our history” and said that the disclosures have caused “profound damage”.

“As a result, we’ve lost critical intelligence sources,” Clapper said during the hearing Wednesday morning. “The intelligence community is going to have less capacity to protect our nation.”

Flynn echoed those sentiments, saying in response to a question that Snowden’s leaks have had serious consequences that may not be felt for years to come.

“This has caused grave damage to our national security,” Flynn said. The true cost, he added, will likely come in the form of “human lives on tomorrow’s battlefields.”

The questions and statements about Snowden’s actions overshadowed some other issues that were raised during the hearing. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a frequent vocal critic of the NSA’s collection programs, used his time toward the beginning of the hearing to ask several pointed questions about domestic surveillance. Specifically, he questioned CIA Director John Brennan about the agency’s activities in the U.S.

“Does the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act apply to the CIA?” Wyden asked, referring to the main U.S. statute that applies to computer crimes.

Brennan said he wasn’t sure and would have to check and get back to Wyden later with an answer. The CIA, like the NSA, is chartered to conduct foreign intelligence operations, not domestic surveillance.

Responding to another question from Sen. Mark Udall (D-NM), who also has been outspoken in his criticism of intelligence methods, about whether the CIA conducts domestic surveillance, Brennan said that the agency follows the law.

The newly published threat assessment from the intelligence community focuses quite a bit of attention on information security issues, especially attacks on financial systems and cyber espionage operations. The report stresses that online crime and intellectual property theft through cyber espionage operations represent serious threats to U.S. security and economic viability.

“Internationally, China also seeks to revise the multi-stakeholder model Internet governance while continuing its expansive worldwide program of network exploitation and intellectual property theft. Iran and North Korea are unpredictable actors in the international arena. Their development of cyber espionage or attack capabilities might be used in an attempt to either provoke or destabilize the United States or its partners. Terrorist organizations have expressed interest in developing offensive cyber capabilities. They continue to use cyberspace for propaganda and influence operations, financial activities, and personnel recruitment,” the report says.

The threat assessment, which also includes discussion of the major physical threats to the U.S., doesn’t go into much in the way of specifics, but says that attacks on critical infrastructure networks represent a serious threat.

“Critical infrastructure, particularly the Industrial Control Systems (ICS) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems used in water management, oil and gas pipelines, electrical power distribution, and mass transit, provides an enticing target to malicious actors. Although newer architectures provide flexibility, functionality, and resilience, large segments of legacy architecture remain vulnerable to attack, which might cause significant economic or human impact,” the report says.

Photo from Flickr images of John D. Rockefeller

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  • johnny apple on

    The intelligence community only lost its ability to sneak around without everyone knowing it does so. The truth is that the technology is a greater threat to humans than anyone is willing to admit and will only get more dangerous as tech takes a real world presence in the form of robots and other autonomous agents. If you want to take about insanity of people like Clapper, just look at the military's push to develop autonomous killer robots and you have to ask why these people have any power whatsoever. Clapper lied to Congress and should be stripped of power for doing so. But that would miss the bigger problem, these people are not trying to make things better for the population that gave them the responsibility and power to do something. They are simply spending money on toys with the aim of tightening of their power over the populations that they can use to justify their continued power. Ask them to justify a war and they will use fear. Ask them to justify a how many U.S. soldiers will die, be maimed, traumatized, mentally damaged, and otherwise be trained to kill humans, who will come back to live damaged lives and cause other damage to those around them, and they will likely try to honor these soldiers as important and meaningful. It's danagerous that so few people think these days. Ask them to justify how they are responsible for the deaths and lives they f**ked up with the wars they funded and they will scurry behijd their fears. The truth is simple, these people have no right to think that just because they have power that they should use it to destroy lives or build surveillance systems that make humans become outwardly shells as they become more fearful that someone is watching them... unless you want to live in a totalitarian police state? Humans need to grow up and our political leaders need to balance every death/murder they cause/fund with a greater push to help this world because if they don't actively try to make the world a better place, they are the creating the justification for the terrorists to wage war on the warmongers. Just my two cents. ~Johnny

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