On 60 Minutes last night, CBS News was provided with an “unprecedented” view inside the NSA. This included an interview with Rick Ledgett, who is leading an NSA task force conducting damage assessment on the Snowden leaks.
John Miller: Of all the things he took is there anything in there that worries you or concerns you more than anything else?
Rick Ledgett: It’s an exhaustive list of the requirements that have been levied against– against the National Security Agency. And what that gives is, what topics we’re interested in, where our gaps are. But additional information about U.S. capabilities and U.S. gaps is provided as part of that.
John Miller: So, I’m going to assume that there’s one in there about China, and there’s one in there about Iran, and there’s another in there about Russia.
Rick Ledgett: Many more than one.
John Miller: Many more than one?
Rick Ledgett: Yes.
John Miller: How many of those are there?
Rick Ledgett: About 31,000.
John Miller: If those documents fell into their hands? What good would it do them?
Rick Ledgett: It would give them a roadmap of what we know, what we don’t know, and give them– implicitly, a way to– protect their information from the U.S. intelligence community’s view.
John Miller: For an adversary in the intelligence game, that’s a gold mine?
Rick Ledgett: It is the keys to the kingdom.
Note that in no point in this exchange does Ledgett assert that the NSA knows Snowden took this particular document collection, while Miller — who comes across more like a Hollywood parody of a journalist — fails to raise this question.
But suppose the NSA truly believes that Snowden took this collection of 31,000 documents. Not only would this be a cause of immense concern to the agency, but the belief itself would be a closely guarded secret.
What possible interest does the United States have in publicizing to its adversaries, that it has lost control of its most valuable intelligence assessments?
If Snowden’s life was not already in great danger, then now, thanks to the NSA (and CBS) he just became even more exposed. And maybe that’s the point.
The NSA wants Snowden to become more afraid of remaining outside the United States than afraid of returning.
Snowden clearly understood that the longer he retained possession of however many documents he took, the more vulnerable he would become, but he waited several months before revealing to the New York Times that he had handed over all the documents to Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras when they met him in Hong Kong in June.
The NSA — with CBS News’ help — however, wants to promote the view that Snowden has currently in his possession 1.7 million documents.
Even if Snowden follows up his earlier denial with another denial, he will remain under intense scrutiny by foreign intelligence services.