Commentary Magazine


The Damage Snowden Has Done

With Edward Snowden still stuck in the purgatory of Moscow’s international airport, it is worth taking a moment to note some news reporting of recent days on the damage he has already done.

The Associated Press reports that “members of virtually every terrorist group, including core al-Qaida, are attempting to change how they communicate, based on what they are reading in the media, to hide from U.S. surveillance.”

The Washington Post reports that intelligence analysts scouring NSA databases to figure out what Snowden stole believe there is a lot more information in his possession than has already come out: “They think he copied so much stuff — that almost everything that place does, he has,” said one former government official.

The Daily Beast reports that Snowden made encrypted digital copies of all of his files and sent them contacts around the world, with the proviso that if anything happens to him the recipients of his files will receive the passwords needed to unlock them.

It may be the case that whoever Snowden sent the files to can’t unlock them without a password, but there is little doubt that the intelligence services of major countries such as Russia and China can easily break through password protections.

The Los Angeles Times reports on the widespread assumption that Russian intelligence agents have already gotten access to “his treasure trove of U.S. intelligence data,” whether he wanted to give it to them or not: “Agents could copy Snowden’s confidential computer files without his cooperation, as he has been in their custody for days in a diplomatic no man’s land at Sheremetyevo airport.” It goes without saying that Chinese intelligence, which is at least as sophisticated as the Russian service, gained access to the same files while Snowden was on their home turf in Hong Kong.

Little wonder, then, that Gen. Keith Alexander, head of NSA, has said that Snowden “has caused irreversible and significant damage to our country and to our allies.” Snowden may in fact prove to be one of the worst traitors in American history. The only puzzle is why he still has any defenders left.