By Julian Hattem - 03/04/14 09:28 AM EST
The National Security Agency's slow response to Edward Snowden's security leaks exacerbated an already devastating national security problem, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) charged Tuesday.
Whitehouse said the NSA should have prepared for for the possibility of a leak, and that damage accumulated because those in charge didn't put out the truth soon enough.
“That’s a drill that you would think that an agency that specialized in the retention of massive amounts of classified information would be prepared for on a regular basis, in the same way that a crew of a commercial aircraft prepares for a drill that takes place if there’s a sudden unexpected decompression of the aircraft," he said.
"In fact, when the news broke of the Snowden releases, I think a lot of damage was done in the days and weeks that followed because the response was so slow and so delayed and it took a long time until people could get it together to put the true story out there.”
Whitehouse, who has taken an interest in cybersecurity issues, said he routinely has had to correct constituents who question why the NSA is listening in on their phone calls. The spy agency collections bulk records about millions of people’s phone records, but that information only includes the numbers people dial, their length of calls and how often they make the calls, not the content of people’s conversations.
Privacy advocates have said that the information the NSA does collect, known as metadata, can be extremely telling about a person and the program should be ended.
The Obama administration has defended the program and claimed that it helps thwart terrorist activities.
The Snowden leaks, defenders of the NSA’s programs say, have tipped off criminals and terrorists to the way the agency operates and may have put Americans in danger. In an op-ed on Monday, a longtime NSA analyst said that the leaks “permanently damaged” the spy agency.
Whitehouse said on Tuesday that the NSA’s lack of planning to react to the leaks had made it harder for him and others to correct the record for the public.
“We were stuck, because if you’re a member of Congress you are not a declassifier and even if something is out there, unless it has been formally declassified, you can be arrested for commenting on or echoing things, even if they’re out in the public domain, because now you’re confirming it to be true,” he said.