WASHINGTON — Fugitive intelligence contractor Edward Snowden’s theft of 1.7 million secret documents could potentially put U.S. military forces in “lethal” danger worldwide, American lawmakers warned Thursday, citing a confidential Pentagon report. The Defense Department prepared and sent on Monday to prominent members of Congress a classified paper analyzing the potential impact of revelations by the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor.
The report itself was not made public. Defense Intelligence Agency chief Lieutenant General Michael Flynn formed a Pentagon task force dubbed the “Information Review Task Force-2” shortly after Snowden’s theft of classified files was discovered, a DIA spokesman told AFP. The DIA-led taskforce worked in coordination with other members of the intelligence community, the military services and the combatant commands. “The goal was to assess the potential impact to the Department of Defense from the compromise of this information,” the spokesman added, speaking on condition of anonymity. Only an initial assessment was provided to lawmakers and the task force “continues its work as additional information is reviewed,” according to the spokesman. Snowden has disclosed details of U.S. intelligence-gathering operations, but lawmakers warned that the leaker’s illegal haul includes a large amount of classified military data. “This report confirms my greatest fears — Snowden’s real acts of betrayal place America’s military men and women at greater risk,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said in a joint statement with the panel’s top Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger. The actions by Snowden, who is currently in Moscow under temporary asylum, “are likely to have lethal consequences for our troops in the field,” Rogers added.
Snowden and his supporters argue that his revelation of details of secret U.S. programs that gather vast amounts of telephone and Internet data on virtually every American was merely a mission to defend civil liberties. The disclosures have triggered a monumental debate in the United States over the balance between personal freedoms and fighting terrorism, but have also sparked uproar against Washington amid revelations the NSA had tapped mobile phones of world leaders including that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. While the global media has zeroed in on the intelligence collection, the congressmen insisted that many documents scooped up by Snowden contain “vital” military operational details which could cause “irreparable harm” if they are obtained by U.S. enemies. “Snowden handed terrorists a copy of our country’s playbook and now we are paying the price,” Ruppersberger said. “We have begun to see terrorists changing their methods because of the leaks and this report indicates that the harm to our country and its citizens will only continue to endure.” The lawmakers’ reaction to the report came on the same day U.S. President Barack Obama met with U.S. lawmakers, including critics of the NSA surveillance operations, to discuss possible reforms to the programs. On Wednesday, Obama met the heads of the NSA, CIA, FBI and the director of national intelligence to discuss proposed changes to the programs.