The U.S. Government Has a New Edward Snowden on Its Hands

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With Edward Snowden in Russian exile, another leaker has popped up in an attempt to take his place. The Intercept, the national security website co-founded by Glenn Greenwald, who published Snowden's original NSA leaks, published a report today detailing the rapid growth of the government's terrorist watch list, revealing along the way that it has a new national security source with access to classified documents. U.S. officials confirmed as much to CNN.

From the Intercept's Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux:

Nearly half of the people on the U.S. government’s widely shared database of terrorist suspects are not connected to any known terrorist group, according to classified government documents obtained by The Intercept. [...]

The classified documents were prepared by the National Counterterrorism Center, the lead agency for tracking individuals with suspected links to international terrorism. Stamped “SECRET” and “NOFORN” (indicating they are not to be shared with foreign governments), they offer the most complete numerical picture of the watchlisting system to date.

The documents cited are from August 2013, well after Snowden left the country.

Greenwald had previously hinted at the possibility of a new leaker — his new venture depends on them — telling CNN in February, "I definitely think it's fair to say that there are people who have been inspired by Edward Snowden's courage and by the great good and virtue that it has achieved."

But the NCTC wasn't just going to let Greenwald and his team have the win with its new source and a scoop about the watch list. When the Intercept approached the government for comment, they turned around and tipped off an Associated Press reporter with whom they have a better relationship, and who managed to publish first. The Huffington Post reports:

The government, it turned out, had "spoiled the scoop," an informally forbidden practice in the world of journalism. To spoil a scoop, the subject of a story, when asked for comment, tips off a different, typically friendlier outlet in the hopes of diminishing the attention the first outlet would have received. Tuesday's AP story was much friendlier to the government's position, explaining the surge of individuals added to the watch list as an ongoing response to a foiled terror plot.

"That was our bad," a National Counterterrorism Center official reportedly told the Intercept. Oops!

The Intercept editor John Cook responded by instituting a 30-minute window for the agency to respond to future inquiries before publication. Even that seems generous.