It looks like we might be on to a new phase in the Edward Snowden saga: anonymous government officials going to compliant media outlets to complain that his revelations have made it easier for terrorists to evade capture.
A June 25 piece in the Washington Post included comments from several anonymous U.S. officials. One guaranteed that the Russians and Chinese have seen Snowden’s files. More ominously, though, was the message from another unnamed official, who told the paper’s Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller that Snowden’s leaks could be helping the terrorists:
A second senior intelligence official said there were concerns that disclosure of U.S. surveillance methods would make it easier for terrorist groups to avoid detection. “The more material that gets made public, the more capability we lose,” the official said.
Already, several terrorist groups in various regions of the world have begun to change their method of communication based on disclosures of surveillance programs in the media, the official said. He would not elaborate on the communication modes.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “Because if they find some other method to communicate, we go dark. And we miss dots. That’s not something we’re particularly excited about.”
That was exactly the same point that CNN Pentagon reporter Barbara Starr advanced in a piece headlined, “Terrorists Try Changes After Snowden Leaks, Official Says” (6/25/13). She reported:
“We can confirm we are seeing indications that several terrorist groups are in fact attempting to change their communications behaviors based specifically on what they are reading about our surveillance programs in the media,” a U.S. intelligence official told CNN.
But the Associated Press‘s Kimberly Dozier (6/26/13) had an even more alarmist take. Under the headline, “Al-Qaeda Said to Be Changing Its Ways After Leaks,” the report dramatically claims that “U.S. intelligence agencies are scrambling to salvage their surveillance of Al-Qaeda and other terrorists.” Relying on more sources who cannot be named, the AP reports that “members of virtually every terrorist group, including core Al-Qaeda members, are attempting to change how they communicate, based on what they are reading in the media.”
Now, if this was really happening, you would hope government officials would say so on the record. Instead, we have secret official sources telling us about how well their secret program was working until a whistleblower’s revelations tipped off terrorists that their communications might be being monitored.
A little more skepticism is in order.