In a recent speech, only now picking up coverage, the NSA’s General Keith Alexander admitted that whistleblower Edward Snowden took up to 200,000 documents. Earlier estimates put the number at around 50,000.
In the talk (a copy of his remarks was published by Reuters and released by the NSA), the general went on to state that he wished “there was a way to prevent” further leaks, and that the information was being put out “in a way that does maximum damage to the NSA and [the United States].”
The 200,000 figure, being higher than expected, could imply that the total number of leaks that we can expect is greater than we could have previously hoped. Provided you feel that Snowden has made a positive impact on slowing a pervasive surveillance state, this is good news. If you land more towards the position that the leaks are tantamount to treason, this is likely very bad news.
The NSA appears to be treading water at best at the moment. Recent testimony by administration officials in defense of the status quo fell far short of being close to persuasive. As quoted by Wired, here’s what the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and a deputy assistant attorney general had to say in a statement:
Attempting to identify the numbers of persons or U.S. persons whose communications or information may be incidentally collected would, in practice, have a privacy-diminishing effect directly contrary to the aims of this bill. […]
Attempting to make this determination would require the intelligence community to research and review personally identifying information solely for the purpose of complying with the reporting requirements, even if the information has not been determined to contain foreign intelligence. […] Such an effort would conflict with our efforts to protect privacy.
The above is in response to a bill that would force the government to better detail the number of Americans that have had their personal information or other data collected under NSA programs. It isn’t popular with the Executive Branch.
While the NSA and the larger intelligence branch is opposed to more openness, it appears that the door cracked open by Snowden and a cadre of world-class journalists will continue to be forced open with the dissemination of new information.
What began with the exposé that the NSA was collecting the phone records of U.S. citizens has expanded around the world to include the cell phone of a chancellor, the email of a former Mexican president and MUSCULAR — a program to tap data cables between foreign data centers of U.S.-based companies to get around Constitutional boundaries.
It is my view that the more we know the better, so I welcome the continued revelations.
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