National Security

CIA director assails Snowden

The head of the CIA assailed Edward Snowden on Wednesday, in his most pointed critique yet of the government whistleblower following Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris.

Without expressly saying the former contractor's name, CIA Director John Brennan told a meeting of overseas security experts that Snowden had undermined U.S. security and contributed to an environment in which it was more difficult for intelligence officials to pinpoint terror plots.

"I think any unauthorized disclosures made by individuals that have dishonored the oath of office, that they have raised their hand and attested to, undermines this nation's security," he said in response to a question about Snowden at the Overseas Security Advisory Council's annual meeting. 

"And heroizing such individuals I find to be unfathomable as far as what it is that this country needs to be able to do, again, in order to keep itself safe," he added. "A lot of people who are speaking out there about what some individuals have done and applauding it have no understanding - are totally ignorant of what it is that such people have wrought."

Brennan's comment elicited uncharacteristically vigorous applause from the crowd.

The remarks were Brennan's most pointed yet about Snowden, who fled the U.S. two years ago after stealing classified information revealing the breadth of international spying powers. Critics of the government whistleblower have repeatedly insisted that his leaks helped terrorist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) evade detection.

Friday's killing of 129 people in Paris has sparked a new chapter in the debate between security and privacy, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle critical about new encryption technologies that make it increasingly easy for people to hide their communications. Prominent voices including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) have also called for measures to roll back or delay the surveillance reform measures prompted by Snowden earlier this year.

"There are a number of challenges from a legal, policy, political standpoint that makes striking this balance [between security and civil liberties] challenging," Brennan said on Wednesday, in an echo of similar comments earlier in the week. "We need to make sure we're able to have the government play what I think is certainly its rightful role in protecting its citizenry."

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