Brett M. Decker, consulting director at the White House Writers Group, previously was editorial page editor of the Washington Times, writer and editor for the Wall Street Journal, senior vice president of the Export-Import Bank and speechwriter to then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay. An adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins and media fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, his most recent book is “Bowing to Beijing.”
Brett recently interviewed me as part of his “5 Questions” series that has included figures from Mitt Romney and Donald Rumsfeld to Donald Trump and former Czech Prez Vaclav Klaus. Here is an excerpt from that interview.
NSA OFFICIAL: SNOWDEN ABETS TERRORISTS, ENEMIES WHO FIGHT ON THE GRID
Decker: The theft and disclosure of classified information are generically and simplistically referred to as “leaks” by the media. This sounds relatively benign and plays into the narrative that flagrant espionage is really nothing more than a case of a well-intentioned whistleblower trying to stop bureaucratic abuse. What’s wrong with this picture? How are the national-security apparatus and U.S. military operational effectiveness affected by this spy game?
Speight: Often it’s merely the simple knowledge of an activity that is damaging. When it was mentioned by a congressman that the United States was listening to Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone calls, bin Laden stopped using that phone as well as other types of electronic communication assuming he was being monitored. That “leak” delayed finding him by years.
The infamous Walker spy family stole vital U.S. naval data and provided it to the Soviet Union giving them information on weapons systems, training, readiness and U.S. and allied tactics. There are other examples from the Rosenbergs to Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen in which American defense capabilities were compromised and, in doing so, our adversaries were given information that helped them advance their own.
The difference between the classic espionage cases and Edward Snowden is that Snowden didn’t just steal documents – and on a scale that dwarfs all others – but he publically portrayed himself as a “whistleblower,” an altruistic champion of citizen rights. This twist is an attempt to make NSA the bad guy. It’s a PR campaign to cover his true intent and to neutralize Russia’s greatest fear and it’s most ominous obstacle: U.S. intelligence.
Decker: You previously told me that, “It is reasonable to assume that Vladimir Putin is giving information obtained via Snowden to ISIS or al Qaeda so they can damage U.S. infrastructure as his proxy.” In what ways are America’s enemies taking advantage of insights they now have into the strategic and tactical readiness of the United States and its allies?
Speight: The crown jewels of any intelligence organization are its sources and methods – the means by which information is obtained. I have no doubts that, thanks to Edward Snowden, Russia and China now have an extraordinary volume of data on NSAs sources and methods for collecting information from communications. That means they now know the weaknesses in their and other of our adversaries’ communications procedures and our strengths in exploiting them.
And not just voice communications, but also radar, telemetry, missile and rocket command and response, military GPS locationing and weapons systems countermeasures. On far too many subjects, Russia and probably China know what we know about them and about ourselves.
This compromise puts at risk our troops on the ground, ships at sea, our air forces, our command and control, military alliances and, as we’ve seen recently, even our banking system. As if that wasn’t bad enough, to mitigate the damage, the United States will have to spend multiple billions of dollars to change our own military and financial systems to prevent what are now critical weaknesses in our national defense. So will our allies.
Read the entire interview here.