WASHINGTON – Two senior Republican lawmakers said Thursday that terrorists are already changing their behavior after leaks about classified U.S. data gathering programs, but they offered no details.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said it’s part of the damage from disclosures by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden of two NSA programs, which collect millions of telephone records and track foreign Internet activity on U.S. networks. Snowden fled to Hong Kong in May and has granted some interviews since then, saying he hopes to stay there and fight any charges that may yet be filed against him.
Rogers said there are “changes we can already see being made by the folks who wish to do us harm and our allies harm” and that the revelations might also “make it harder to track bad guys trying to harm U.S. citizens in the United States.”
Later Thursday, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, used similar language in criticizing Snowden.
“The bad guys are now changing their methods of operation,” Chambliss said. “His disclosures are ultimately going to lead to us being less safe in America because bad guys will be able to figure out a way around some of the methods we use, and it’s likely to cost lives down the road.”
Rogers and Chambliss spoke after closed briefings with top administration officials on the matter.
The ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger of Maryland, said he’s concerned that Snowden fled to Hong Kong, a part of China, “a country that’s cyberattacking us every single day.”
The NSA’s director, Gen. Keith Alexander, who was part of the closed briefings to Senate and House members, said he hopes to declassify details of dozens of attacks disrupted by the programs. Alexander said officials don’t want to “cause another terror attack by giving out too much information.”
Officials have thrown out widely varying numbers of the attacks they say the broad surveillance of Americans’ phone and online usage has thwarted. On Wednesday, Alexander said dozens have been stopped. Ruppersberger said the surveillance “has thwarted 10 possible terrorist attacks,” then amended that number to be in line with Alexander’s statement. In the initial days after the disclosures of the programs, officials cited one case.
Two senators and longtime critics of the program challenged Alexander’s claim Thursday.
“We have not yet seen any evidence showing that the NSA’s dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence,” Sens. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., both members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “All of the plots that he mentioned appear to have been identified using other collection methods.”
Snowden’s access to secret programs is spurring lawmakers to consider imposing new limits on contractors who work in the intelligence field.