The value of Edward Snowden's disclosures about government spying was not worth the cost to U.S. national security, 80 percent of National Journal's Security Insiders said.
Even though public polls show Americans are increasingly concerned about their privacy—and oppose the agency's once-secret collection of telephone and Internet metadata—Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the revelations from the former NSA contractor caused "massive" and "historic" damage to U.S. security.
The pool of experts overwhelmingly say that the ensuing public debate over civil liberties was not worth the harm to national security. "[Snowden] compromised important intelligence sources and methods," one Insider said, "and terrorists and foreign governments have updated their tradecraft in response."
This has reduced the government's ability to stop attacks that threaten Americans' security, the Insider continued. "What have we learned about programs that do impact civil liberties? That the intelligence community has been operating collection programs authorized by all three branches of government, with approval from two presidents from different parties, under multiple levels of checks and balances, and with no record of significantly abusing its ability to access information about the American people."
The public, another Insider said, "will never know the full cost, and therefore will never be able to truly understand the damage Snowden did. A true 'Patriot,' which he claims to be, would have given the documents to Congress and stayed in the U.S. to face the consequences. He's a coward." Several Insiders also chose to insult Snowden, calling him "a vainglorious traitor" and "a charlatan."
Some Insiders said they felt conflicted. Snowden's revelations were beneficial because he "shined a light on an intrusive state that seems to have violated the law and the Constitution and taken the country in a dangerous direction," one Insider said. But the harm to national security was perhaps even greater, the Insider added. "It's hard to weigh the two without more info on the assessed damage caused. But one has to assume it has been enormous."
A 20 percent minority insisted Snowden's revelations were worth the risk. "We would never have a debate on surveillance without his disclosures, whistle-blower or not," one Insider said. Clapper overstates the damage to national security, another Insider asserted, but that could be fixed now with a more "thoughtful" surveillance policy.
The documents show that the agency was "massively violating every citizen's privacy" with its enormous metadata program, another Insider said. "At the same time, it was growing more and more out of control with neither the White House, the FISA court, nor the Congress willing to rein it in. When an agency begins to go rogue, it invites whistle-blowers. And since virtually all the information released has dealt with abuses at home or deceit with allies, and nothing on North Korean or other adversaries, whatever damage there was, was minimal compared to the benefit."
If the U.S. government were to appoint a Church commission-like organization and change—and the American people were to demand it—Snowden's leaks would be worth it, one Insider said. "Without such change, the U.S. has lost our standing to chastise the surveillance of countries like China and Iran against their people, and that is a greater harm than what is being discussed in the media."
1. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said former NSA contractor Edward Snowden caused "massive" and "historic" security damage. Was the value of his disclosures worth the potential security costs?
- No 80%
- Yes 20%
"Oh, my God, no! This is the most destructive hemorrhaging of American secrets in history, and very few of them had anything to do with American privacy. And NONE of them implicated unlawful activity."
"Edward Snowden's disclosure of programs that have nothing to do with American citizens have put the United States in grave peril. We can only hope a major crisis does not erupt before the damage to our intelligence system is repaired. The value of the disclosures is most certainly not worth the potential security costs."
"The main beneficiary of Snowden's treason is the Russian intelligence service."
"It is bizarre that anyone could think that people holding security clearances should be free to run to the news media every time they disagree with a classified policy. Whistle-blowers have IGs and congressional oversight committees to which they are free to complain when they perceive abuses, but we might as well abolish the notion of classified information if Snowden is to be held up as model of good citizenship."
"Absolutely not. And it is silly to think Snowden deliberated much on this point, given the quantity of what he has released. At the same time, we know that the programs he leaked were approved by the Justice Department and briefed to Congress. We also know that their exposure has damaged our ability to prevent another 9/11 or an overreaction to events like the Boston bombings. What has happened to good governance in this case? Although groups of experts are now claiming intelligence overreached, government by 'blue-ribbon panel' or serial leaker is not democracy. Politically fraught moments, whether triggered by a 9/11 or a notorious leaker, tend to create a kind of lemmings' rush to 'fix' intelligence. But true, safe intelligence oversight requires deliberate weighing of risks and gains, not a stampede. If the balance of risks and gains was wrong before Snowden, blame the electorate who voted in the overseers, don't lionize the leaker. He hurt us."
"There is value in having privacy issues examined in the public square, but it is far exceeded in damage to America in compromised intelligence sources and methods, harm to the trust in U.S. IT and telecom companies that operate globally, and in U.S. relations with Germany and other allies. None of the revelations has suggested that intelligence programs operated contrary to U.S. law or congressional oversight."
"There is a benefit from the more vigorous debate over security vs. privacy, but it could have been achieved with far less damage than Snowden has caused."
"Only seeing the tip of the iceberg on disclosures. The next round will significantly impact U.S. intelligence efforts abroad, not U.S. civil-liberties issues."
"Absolutely not. The information released thus far is a very small part of millions of documents. He is accountable for the release and use of all the information, not just what he chooses to discuss. That is the issue that is not being discussed and should be."
"It's not clear what else Snowden has ... or to whom he released his information. There could still be some serious long-term damage."
"The disclosures go far beyond anything remotely connected to the privacy rights of Americans and instead constitute a wholesale attack on U.S. intelligence capabilities and foreign relations. The only value of that is to U.S. adversaries."
"Requiring NSA to go to court for medadata access endangers our terror fighters' rapid response to security threats."
"We can't really measure either yet, but we don't want dingbat 29-year-old contractor-wonks making the call."
"Too soon for a definitive answer. It won't be the declarations of the intel community or the oversight committees on the Hill that will force serious dialogue on change in the way we manage the NSA. Rather, it will be the bottom lines of the U.S. tech giants being beaten down by backlash in Europe and Asia that will force serious discussion and possibly change."
"Privacy and intelligence oversight discussions should be happening as Congress, the courts, and the executive branch oversee intelligence operations. The three coequal branches of government should be fulfilling their respective functions. Functioning oversight mechanisms should always be in place , but that does not excuse Edward Snowden's actions. He knowingly and willfully broke the law when he stole data from the NSA. His revelations will cost the U.S. billions of dollars in lost intelligence and lost man-hours. These revelations also impair military readiness in that they have compromised significant and dearly bought intelligence and operational capabilities. The consequences of these compromises will only be fully appreciated when we fail to prevail against our foreign adversaries in a future conflict."
"Sad, because there is a need for a national dialogue about intelligence gathering and privacy rights. But Snowden has yet to reveal any abuses, and the vast majority of what he has leaked has badly damaged the IC's ability to what they have been asked to do. A traitor, yes, but even more a moral coward. If he had been serious in his stated intent, he would taken the path that Frank Snepp and Daniel Ellsberg took."
"No, the cost exponentially exceeds the benefit in terms of undermining the security of the United States. I agree that we needed a debate about how much we were doing. But, this was not the way to go about it."
"Snowden released far more than was necessary to his own reform agenda—damage has been incalculable and has nothing to do with his stated goals."
"I welcome this debate."
"We would never have a debate on surveillance without his disclosures, whistle-blower or not."
"Yes, the documents show that the agency was massively violating every citizen's privacy with its enormous metadata program. At the same time, it was growing more and more out of control with neither the White House, the FISA court, nor the Congress willing to rein it in. When an agency begins to go rogue, it invites whistle-blowers. And since virtually all the information released has dealt with abuses at home or deceit with allies, and nothing on North Korean or other adversaries, whatever damage there was was minimal compared to the benefit."
"The value was worth the cost if the U.S. government were to appoint a Church-commission like organization and change, and the American people were to demand it. Without such change, the U.S. has lost our standing to chastise the surveillance of countries like China and Iran against their people, and that is a greater harm than what is being discussed in the media."
"The Snowden disclosures prompted a much needed assessment and public dialogue. Clapper overstates the damage, but much of the damage caused could be fixed with more thoughtful policy."
National Journal's National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of more than 100 defense and foreign policy experts. They include: Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, Graham Allison, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Marion Blakey, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Mark Brunner, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Lorne Craner, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Daniel Drezner, Mackenzie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Stephen Ganyard, Daniel Goure, Mark Green, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Todd Harrison, John Hamre, Jim Harper, Marty Hauser, Michael Hayden, Michael Herson, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Linda Hudson, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, David Kramer, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lindsay, Justin Logan, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Ronald Marks, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Michael Morell, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Larry Prior, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Frank Ruggiero, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Suzanne Spaulding, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Ted Stroup, Guy Swan, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Richard Wilhelm, Tamara Wittes, Dov Zakheim, and Juan Zarate.
This article appears in the February 7, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.