WASHINGTON – Edward Snowden, the fugitive former contractor who leaked classified National Security Agency documents, “was a thief” who had possible Russian assistance and has “incredibly harmed” the U.S. military, the House Intelligence Committee chairman said.
“This was a thief, who we believe had some help, who stole information, the vast majority had nothing to do with privacy,” Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, said on the NBC News program “Meet the Press” broadcast Sunday.
“Our army, navy, air force, marines have been incredibly harmed by the data that he has taken with him and we believe now is in the hands of nation states.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a joint appearance with Rogers that Snowden “may well have” had assistance.
“This isn’t somebody who comes upon something and says this isn’t the right thing for the government to do,” Feinstein, a California Democrat, said. “He came there with the intent to take as much material down as he possibly could.”
Rogers has offered the only public characterization of a classified Defense Department report, which he said concluded that Snowden, when he was working for the McLean, Virginia-based Booz Allen Hamilton, downloaded about 1.7 million intelligence files — the biggest theft of U.S. secrets ever.
Rogers implied yet stopped short of directly accusing Russia with aiding Snowden, 30, who is residing in that country under temporary asylum.
“There’s a reason he ended up in the hands, the loving arms, of an FSB agent in Moscow,” Rogers said, referring to Russia’s spy agency. “There’s questions to be answered there. I don’t think it was a gee-whiz luck event that he ended up in Moscow under the handling of the FSB.”
Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that he thinks Snowden had help.
“I personally believe that he was cultivated by a foreign power to do what he did,” said McCaul, a Texas Republican.
The U.S. has charged Snowden with theft and espionage for leaking documents to the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper and The Washington Post last year that unveiled the breadth of the NSA’s collection of Internet and telephone records.
Snowden, who before going to Russia went to Hong Kong after leaking the documents, has said his goal was to call the public’s attention to programs he believed had expanded with little meaningful oversight. In an interview published in the Post in late December, he said, “All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed.”
As journalists delved into the NSA’s workings based on the documents he provided, “everything that I had been trying to do was validated,” Snowden said. “Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”
President Barack Obama responded Friday to seven months of debate instigated by Snowden’s leaks of the data-gathering by U.S. spy agencies. Obama endorsed taking action to ensure that U.S. citizens and allies can have more confidence that their privacy is protected while committing to few specifics. He directed others — Congress, his attorney general, his intelligence director, a new outside privacy panel — to propose solutions.
Rogers, in his “Meet the Press” comments, said “if it was a privacy concern” that spurred Snowden, “he didn’t look for information on the privacy side for Americans. He was stealing information that had to do with how we operate overseas to collect information to keep Americans safe.
“Some of the things he did were beyond his technical capabilities,” such as “how he arranged travel before he left,” said Rogers. “He had a go-bag, if you will.”