In interviews this month with James Risen of the New York Times – who’s having his own issues with government leaks – Edward Snowden insisted there’s a “zero percent chance” that classified documents he took from the NSA fell into Russian or Chinese hands. Snowden said he turned over all of the documents to journalists he met with in Hong Kong, since it “wouldn’t serve the public interest” to take them into Moscow. U.S. intelligence officials have expressed concern that foreign intelligence agencies might have obtained the NSA documents, and Snowden said he wants to make it clear that Russians never had an opportunity to seize the papers. And he’s confident that he adequately protected the documents from authorities in Hong Kong, since he specialized in spying on the Chinese while working for the NSA.
Snowden said he taught a course on Chinese cyber counterintelligence, and some of the intelligence he obtained was so damaging we’d know if the Chinese had it. His last project as an NSA contractor gave him, “access to every target, every active operation” against the Chinese. “Full lists of them.” Per the Times:
“If that was compromised,” he went on, “N.S.A. would have set the table on fire from slamming it so many times in denouncing the damage it had caused. Yet N.S.A. has not offered a single example of damage from the leaks. They haven’t said boo about it except ‘we think,’ ‘maybe,’ ‘have to assume’ from anonymous and former officials. Not ‘China is going dark.’ Not ‘the Chinese military has shut us out.’”
Determining the truth about the NSA leaks and the motivation behind various disclosures is essentially impossible, which isn’t surprising considering we’re talking about spies. Maybe Snowden really doesn’t have sensitive documents anymore, or perhaps this is just a ploy to get Russian spies to stop rifling through his garbage. Snowden has previously denied that that China or Russia took anything from his laptops. However, journalist Glenn Greenwald declared in July, after Snowden left the Moscow airport, “He’s in possession of literally thousands of documents that contain very specific blueprints that would allow somebody who read them to know exactly how the NSA does what it does.” Of course, he might have meant that Snowden had “possession,” or can access the documents online. Either way, intelligence officials should know that smashing Snowden’s hard drives probably isn’t going to help.