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Snowden foes say NSA leaks endanger troops, help terrorists

Two members of the House Intelligence Committee say a secret Pentagon report shows Edward Snowden's leaking of NSA documents has "tipped off US adversaries." But they don't provide any details.

Edward Moyer Senior Editor
Edward Moyer is a senior editor at CNET and a many-year veteran of the writing and editing world. He enjoys taking sentences apart and putting them back together. He also likes making them from scratch. ¶ For nearly a quarter of a century, he's edited and written stories about various aspects of the technology world, from the US National Security Agency's controversial spying techniques to historic NASA space missions to 3D-printed works of fine art. Before that, he wrote about movies, musicians, artists and subcultures.
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Anti-NSA demonstrators wield Edward Snowden signs in Berlin last July. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Thursday saw the latest salvo in the "Edward Snowden: Hero or Traitor?" debate, as the top two members of the House Intelligence Committee said a classified Pentagon report found that Snowden's leaking of NSA documents had endangered US troops and helped terrorists -- though they declined to provide specifics.

"This report confirms my greatest fears -- Snowden's real acts of betrayal place America's military men and women at greater risk," committee Chairman Mike Rogers said in a statement cited by Foreign Policy. "Snowden's actions are likely to have lethal consequences for our troops in the field."

Rogers, a former Army officer and FBI agent, has been a vocal defender of the NSA's surveillance programs. He was joined in his statements today by the committee's ranking minority member, Dutch Ruppersberger, also a defender of the NSA's mass collection of data under the Patriot Act.

"Snowden handed terrorists a copy of our country's playbook and now we are paying the price, which this report confirms," Ruppersberger said in a statement cited by various reports.

The two lawmakers said the Snowden leaks had "tipped off our adversaries to the sources and methods of our defense, and hurt US allies helping us with counterterrorism; cybercrime; human and narcotics trafficking; and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," Foreign Policy reported.

Neither Rogers nor Ruppersberger provided specific evidence to support those assertions. A committee spokeswoman told blog The Hill that the lawmakers couldn't offer details because the Pentagon report is classified.

Rogers and Ruppersberger said in July of last year that the NSA's blanket collection of data "has been integral in preventing multiple terrorist attacks." That claim -- made also by the NSA and in keeping with the agency's main talking point in defense of its programs -- was challenged in December by the panel handpicked by President Barack Obama to investigate the NSA's efforts. (And it's also been challenged by NSA critics for some time.)

Responding to Thursday's reports on the congressmen's statements and on the Pentagon report, Glenn Greenwald -- the journalist to whom Snowden provided many of the purloined NSA documents -- tweeted, "US Govt warns: leaks help Terrorists, endanger national security! -- for every leak over the last 40 years." Greenwald linked to a post by the nonprofit Freedom of the Press Foundation that discusses government claims about WikiLeaks and the Pentagon Papers.

In an interview with CNET last month, Greenwald scoffed at the House Intelligence Committee's role as an oversight body, saying the committee is "worse than toothless, it exists to endorse what the Intelligence Community does."

Snowden, of course, is at the center of a debate over national security and civil liberties and is wanted by the US government under the Espionage Act. Critics such as Rogers and Ruppersberger say he's a traitor, whereas defenders, such as The New York Times' editorial board, say he's a whistle-blower who should be given clemency for exposing NSA abuses.

The back and forth over Snowden and the NSA may well increase in pitch over the coming months, as both the legislative and executive branches consider proposals to rein in the agency, the courts weigh the constitutionality of NSA programs, and tech-community bigwigs lobby for change. (For an overview, check out our rundown of what to expect from the NSA saga in 2014.)