Politics Special

Officials suggest Edward Snowden may have worked for Russian spies

Updated: 2014-01-20T05:24:43Z


The New York Times

— The heads of the House and Senate intelligence committees suggested Sunday that Edward Snowden may have been working for Russian spy services while he was employed at a National Security Agency facility last year before he disclosed hundreds of thousands of classified government documents.

The lawmakers offered no specific evidence that Snowden cooperated with Moscow. Since Snowden’s disclosure first became public last spring, there has been much speculation that he was collaborating with a foreign spy service.

A senior FBI official said Sunday that it was still the bureau’s conclusion that Snowden acted alone.

The questions raised by Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California came as the debate rages about whether Snowden was a traitor, a whistle-blower or a violator of his oaths who nonetheless started what President Barack Obama again last week called an important debate. To some, he is all three.

The initial portrayals of Snowden depicted a young man shocked by the scope of government surveillance and determined to expose it. In this view, he appeared to be cultivating an image as a whistle-blower.

But Rogers described a very different view of Snowden, as a man who, from the beginning, may have knowingly or unknowingly been directed by a foreign intelligence service. Snowden had been employed at a National Security Agency facility in Hawaii.

Rogers said the mass of military data in the Snowden trove clearly had nothing to do with privacy or the reach of intelligence services, and he suggested that Snowden’s possession of a “go bag” to get out of Hawaii and his smooth entry into Hong Kong indicated preplanning beyond his individual capacity.

Intelligence officials say they have no doubt that Chinese and Russian intelligence obtained whatever information Snowden was carrying with him digitally.

Snowden has said that he did not turn over any documents to any foreign governments; U.S. officials say that given the cyber skills of the Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies, they assume that those countries could have gotten them without Snowden’s knowledge.

Obama weighed in on the subject in a new interview with The New Yorker. He insisted that Snowden had not revealed any illegalities, and while he may have raised “legitimate policy questions” the question was, “Is the only way to do that by giving some 29-year-old free rein to basically dump a mountain of information, much of which is definitely legal, definitely necessary for national security, and should properly be classified?”

Obama said that “the benefit of the debate he generated was not worth the damage done, because there was another way of doing it.”

On Sunday, Rogers appeared to hinge many of his suspicions about Snowden on a recent Defense Intelligence Agency report that he has described in other interviews as concluding that Snowden stole about 1.7 million intelligence files that concern vital operations of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.

He said that it would cost billions of dollars to change operations because of the security breaches.

The defense intelligence report remains classified, though some members of Congress have been briefed on it in recent weeks.

“I believe there’s a reason he ended up in the hands, the loving arms, of an FSB agent in Moscow. I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” Rogers said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” referring to the Federal Security Service, the Russian state security organization that succeeded the KGB.

Ben Wizner, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who advises Snowden, said in a telephone interview Sunday that Rogers’ statement was “not only false, it is silly.”

Wizner criticized Rogers’ description of the defense agency report as “exaggerated national security claims.”

U.S. suspicions had been raised in part, according to one official familiar with the intelligence, because intelligence agencies believe that some of the information apparently stored with an Internet cloud service has been changed or moved in recent months. It is not clear how much U.S. intelligence agencies know about where the trove of data is stored.

The United States is concerned that Russian agents may have access to the data while Snowden is in Russia.

Feinstein, when asked on “Meet the Press” whether she agreed with Rogers that Snowden may have had help from the Russians, was more tentative: “He may well have. We don’t know at this stage.”

The Washington Post contributed to this report.

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