The continuing impact of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s massive leaks of American intelligence was the subject of a probing “60 Minutes” report yesterday, when it was revealed that the agency has been discussing offering him amnesty if he agrees to stop releasing secret documents. An NSA official said Snowden’s leaks could still seriously damage the nation.
Rick Ledgett, the leader of an NSA task force investigating Snowden’s leaks, said in the hands of America’s enemies the Snowden leaks could conceivably give them “the keys to the kingdom.”
“It would give them a roadmap of what we know and what we don’t know … implicitly, a way to protect their information from the U.S. intelligence community’s view,” Ledgett said during the televised “60 Minutes” report on CBS by correspondent John Miller. “It is the keys to the kingdom.”
Snowden, who left the United States earlier this year after leaking files to journalist Glenn Greenwald, is still in Russia after fleeing his home in Hawaii, with a stopover in Hong Kong.
Ledgett said he could be open to an amnesty deal for Snowden because of the danger of documents that Snowden still holds.
“So my personal view is, yes it’s worth having a conversation about,” Ledgett said. “I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured, and my bar for those assurances would be very high, would be more than just an assertion on his part.”
But Ledgett’s boss, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander, who is retiring early next year, rejected the idea of amnesty.
“This is analogous to a hostage-taker taking 50 people hostage, shooting 10, and then say, ‘if you give me full amnesty, I’ll let the other 40 go’. What do you do?” Alexander asked.
In an earlier interview with Reuters, Ledgett said Snowden’s disclosures have been “cataclysmic” for the agency and he was deeply worried about many of the 1.7 million files that haven’t yet been disclosed. Earlier this month, a U.K. newspaper editor told members of the British Parliament that only 1 percent of files leaked by Snowden had been published by the newspaper.
The U.S. has charged Snowden with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence—each charge carrying a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
In addition, a weekend story in the New York Times says senior Obama Administration officials admitted that they may never know the full extent of what Snowden took before leaving the United States for Hong Kong.
“Investigators remain in the dark about the extent of the data breach partly because the NSA facility in Hawaii where Mr. Snowden worked … was not equipped with up-to-date software that allows the spy agency to monitor which corners of its vast computer landscape its employees are navigating at any given time,” the newspaper reports. “Six months since the investigation began, officials said Mr. Snowden had further covered his tracks by logging into classified systems using the passwords of other security agency employees, as well as by hacking firewalls installed to limit access to certain parts of the system.”