National Security Agency (NSA) contractor-turned-leaker, Edward Snowden, is the most massive incident of espionage and intelligence theft in U.S. history, according to testimony heard on Wednesday by members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The Director of National Intelligence, former Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper, joined other officials from the intelligence and law enforcement communities to brief the Intelligence Committee senators on security threats facing the U.S., including espionage and cyber operations especially by Russia and China.
The testimony also included terrorist threats from al-Qaeda and other Islamists groups that are benefiting from Snowden's disclosures particularly leaks about intelligence agencies' sources and methods.
The nation’s top intelligence officer described “the profound damage that [Snowden's] disclosures have caused and continue to cause,” which Clapper claims left the U.S. less safe and Americans less secure.
“As a result, we’ve lost critical foreign intelligence collection sources, including some shared with us by valued partners. Terrorists and other adversaries of this country are going to school on U.S. intelligence sources, methods and tradecraft, and the insights they are gaining are making our job much, much harder," Clapper told the panel of Democrats and Republicans.
Snowden is charged with espionage and stealing government property, but he remains a fugitive in Russia, where the Putin government has granted him asylum.
Clapper told the committee he would not discuss the possibility of the Russians obtaining classified data from Snowden unless the questioning occurs in a closed-door, classified hearing.
During the same hearing on Wednesday, Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Defense Intelligence Agency director, testified that the Snowden intelligence fiasco may prove itself to be harmful to American forces overseas.
“We will likely face the cost in human lives on tomorrow's battlefield or in some place where we will put our military forces,” said Flynn.
According to Nick Simeone of the American Forces Press Service, the hearing also touched on risks to national security posed by the civil war in Syria, which Clapper said has “become a huge magnet for extremists” who are getting training “to go back to their countries and conduct more terrorist acts.” The intelligence community estimates that more than 7,000 foreign fighters from 50 countries have gone to Syria since the start of the civil war, he said.