The National Security Agency (NSA) fired back at Edward Snowden in a live video appearance today by its Deputy Director at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) Conference in Vancouver.
Deputy Director Richard Ledgett spoke with TED curator Chris Anderson from the agency’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. He accused the document leaker of putting “people’s lives at risk” and of “amazing arrogance that he knows better than the framers of the Constitution.”
Snowden, who has released many sensitive documents he obtained while working at the agency, spoke at the conference earlier this week through a similar video link.
“He absolutely did have alternative ways he could have gone,” Ledgett said. “Characterizing him as a whistleblower hurts legitimate whistleblowing activities.”
In other comments, the NSA official said:
• “The actions he took were inappropriate because he put people’s lives at risk in the long run. Uncontrolled disclosure of the NSA capabilities leads [targets] to move away from our ability to have insights into what they are doing.”
• “Our operatives and allies are at greater risk because we don’t see the threats that are coming their way.”
• “If our adversaries see our methods they will move away from using them. We have evidence that terrorists, smugglers, and nation states have moved away. We are losing visibility into what our adversaries are doing.”
• “The reason there has not been a major attack in the U.S. since 9/11 is not an accident. It’s a lot of hard work that we have done. NSA programs [to collect phone metadata] have helped stop 54 attacks, 25 of those in Europe. Of those, 18 were in three countries, some of which are our allies, and some of which are beating the heck out of us over the NSA programs, by the way.”
• “It’s bad to expose operations and capabilities in a way that allows the people working against us, the bad guys, to counter them.”
• “If we could make it so that all the bad guys use one domain, badguy.com, that would be awesome.”
• “We compel [U.S. companies] to provide information just like every other nation in the world does.”
• “[To find information that's relevant,] we’re going to necessarily encounter innocent Americans and innocent foreign citizens that are going about their business. We have procedures in place to protect that, called minimization procedures, that are constitutionally based. Absolutely folks do have a right to privacy and we work very hard to make sure that privacy is protected.”
Ledgett also said the agency is now working on a proposal to be more transparent and to regularly publish transparency reports, as some Internet companies do.
While Snowden has been characterized as either a hero or a traitor, some national security experts have a more complicated view of his leaks.
John Pike, director of the military and security information organization GlobalSecurity.org, told VentureBeat he agreed with Ledgett’s contention that Snowden’s leaks have jeopardized lives.
“[The leaks] have certainly jeopardized the ability of the government to stop terrorists,” he said, adding that Snowden’s actions were “absolutely despicable” because of that reason. Pike also agreed with Ledgett that Snowden could have tried alternative actions, such as internal protests or a more selective release of documents.
At the same time, Pike described the NSA’s wholesale capture and analysis of phone and Internet traffic, made public only through Snowden’s revelations, as clearly in violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches.
“There’s no way what they have been doing can be reconciled with the Fourth Amendment,” he said. Nevertheless, he said he was “ambivalent” about the agency’s internal spying, saying, “It has worked, because there hasn’t been an attack since September 11, .”