NSA conducting ‘damage assessment’ of Snowden leak

“The more we [learn] the more dangerous this situation becomes,” House Intelligence Committee chief Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said Thursday, referring to the ongoing investigation into Snowden. 

American intelligence agencies are already picking up signals that U.S. adversaries are changing tactics as a result of the Snowden leaks, according to Rogers. 

His comments came shortly a classified briefing on Capitol Hill about the leaked NSA programs by agency chief Gen. Keith Alexander. 

Snowden illegally leaked details of two previously unknown NSA domestic intelligence programs to the media last week. 

One program, code-named PRISM, was designed to pull data from tech companies on foreign Internet users. The second program allowed NSA to sweep all cellphones on the Verizon network. 

The 29-year-old contractor was in Hong Kong at the time of the leaks, but he has since fled the city and his current whereabouts are unknown. 

It remains unclear whether Snowden was able to gather additional information on other classified NSA programs before his disappearance. 

Before fleeing Hong Kong, Snowden gave a series of interviews to local media, detailing U.S. intelligence efforts to hack into Chinese networks that had been in place since 2009. 

That said, Rogers noted the ongoing counterintelligence assessment is looking at Snowden's possible ties to the Chinese government. 

U.S. intelligence officials are conducting "a through scrub of what his Chinese [connections] are," he said Thursday. 

On Wednesday, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) said the information released so far on the NSA programs leaked by Snowden is "the tip of the iceberg" in the agency's domestic intelligence operations. 

What is clear, according to Rogers, is Snowden was using his access as a NSA contractor "to go beyond what he legitimately had access to." 

The damage to U.S. national security due to the Snowden leaks was even more damaging, given the number of terrorist attacks the NSA programs have thwarted, Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) said.

American intelligence has been able to foil 10 specific terror plots targeted at the United States and allied countries, Ruppersberger said after the same Thursday briefing. 

"This is not a program where [NSA] is out freewheeling it," Alexander told reporters after Thursday's briefing, regarding both programs' successes.

The PRISM program led to the breakup of al Qaeda operative Najibullah Zazi’s plot to bomb New York’s subways in 2009, Alexander said during a Senate appropriations panel hearing on Wednesday. 

The cellphone program played a key role in the federal manhunt for Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the brothers accused of bombing the Boston Marathon in April. 

"This is exactly the kind of protection [Americans] want and need," Rogers said. 

"If you are going to connect the dots, you have to have dots in the [system] to connect," he added. 

Critics claim the failure to connect those dots by the FBI and intelligence community left the government unable to predict the Boston bombings. 

Both lawmakers on Thursday requested the NSA to accelerate the declassification process on the details of the other foiled terror plots. 

That NSA assessment should be completed by next week, according to Rogers.