House Report Slams Snowden as Biopic Opens
MANHATTAN (CN) — With Hollywood, human-rights groups and Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigning for Edward Snowden's clemency, a House intelligence committee report aggressively pushes back against his image as a mass-surveillance whistleblower.
On Thursday evening, the U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence revealed a small glimpse of what it described as the fruits of a two-year investigation into Snowden's leaks of troves of top-secret National Security Agency documents.
The unclassified version of the report, totaling four pages, paints in broad strokes the conclusions of a 36-page document hidden from the public eye.
Insisting that Snowden's NSA leaks "caused tremendous damage to national security," the unclassified version of report does not describe how with any specificity.
Though Snowden's most famous leak exposed mass telephone-data collection, the report claims that the "vast majority of the documents that he stole have nothing to do with programs impacting individual privacy interests — they instead pertain to military, defense, and intelligence programs of great interest to America's adversaries."
In interviews, Snowden has spoken repeatedly of his civil-libertarian intentions, but the House committee claims his motivations stemmed from sour grapes with his NSA employer.
Snowden said he reached his "breaking point" after Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress in March 2013, with the retired Air Force general insisting during his testimony that the NSA would "not wittingly" collect data on U.S. citizens.
But the House Committee claims that Snowden started downloading 1.5 million classified files long before Clapper's testimony, two weeks after an office fight with his supervisor at the NSA in June 2012.
Calling Snowden a "serial liar and fabricator," the House committee accused him of padding his intelligence resume, faking a sick day off work, shunning the usual channels of reporting government misconduct, and finding refuge in Hong Kong and Russia — countries with poor records on his civil-libertarian ideals.
The 22-member congressional panel released their findings unanimously, with some of its members individually releasing even harsher statements.
Chairman Devin Nunes, an archconservative Republican from California, labeled Snowden a "traitor who willfully betrayed his colleagues and his country."
Snowden and his defenders have called the report, and the timing of its release, a transparent and dishonest smear designed to tamp down high-profile support the leaker has drawn from around the world.
Since the "Pardon Snowden" campaign began on Monday, groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union have urged President Barack Obama to give clemency before he leaves office.
His likely successor, Hillary Clinton, was the only candidate who voiced no sympathy for Snowden's actions during the Democratic primary. The other candidate, Donald Trump, has breezily floated the idea of Snowden's execution.
Meanwhile, Vermont Sen. Sanders joined Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg in a Guardian editorial that he promoted on Twitter with the post: "The interests of justice would be best served if our government granted @Snowden some form of clemency."
Snowden's defenders also noticed that the report fell hours before the release of Oliver Stone's sympathetic biopic of him, which opened in theaters on Friday.
On his Twitter account, Snowden said the House committee had its eye more on box-office returns than oversight.
"Congress spent two years writing a report to discourage you from going to see this film," he wrote.
Mocking his congressional investigators, Snowden picked apart their claims on social media. He noted that it did not take a two-year investigation to note that he faked a sick day and had a GED, facts that were already in the public record.
Snowden challenged the report's timeline for his leaks, insisting that he was being honest about exfiltrating documents after Clapper's testimony in 2013.
The large data transfer from a year earlier was a program code-named "HEARTBEAT," an initiative that he said two levels of his superiors authorized. This is the origin of the government's estimate that Snowden leaked 1.5 million files, a number that he calls grossly inflated.
While the House quoted a Russian Parliamentarian as confirming Snowden leaked to the Kremlin, Snowden claims that this is a misquote. The parliamentarian in question hedged his allegation with "I think," a qualification that did not make it into the report.
Snowden's ACLU attorney Ben Wizner blasted what he called a "dishonest report" as an attempt to "discredit a genuine American hero."
"After years of 'investigation,' the committee still can't point to any remotely credible evidence that Snowden's disclosures caused harm," he said in a statement. "In a more candid moment, the NSA's former deputy director, who was directly involved in the government's investigation, explicitly said he didn't believe Snowden had cooperated with either China or Russia."
Wizner continued, "The truth is that Edward Snowden and the journalists with whom he worked did the job that the House Intelligence Committee was supposed to do: bring meaningful oversight to the U.S. intelligence community. He did so responsibly and carefully, and their efforts have led to historic reforms."
More than a year ago, the ACLU convinced a New York-based federal appeals court that the NSA's data-collection program was illegal. Their lawsuit seeking an injunction to end it was ultimately dismissed, after Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, reforming mass-surveillance.
The civil-liberties group had long tried to challenge NSA data-collection, but could not prove the existence of the program in court until Snowden's leaks paved the path for its judicial victory.