Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told David Ignatius of The Washington Post that Edward Snowden took fewer top secret NSA documents than previously estimated.
The U.S. intelligence community now thinks that the former systems administrator gave 200,000 to journalists in Hong Kong and had “probably downloaded” up to 1.5 million documents more — revised down from the previous estimate of 1.77 million.
It’s unclear what the alleged documents contain: Top officials have said that the overwhelming majority of information Snowden took pertained to the U.S. military capabilities, but Ignatius reports that officials don’t think Snowden “compromised the communications networks that make up the military’s command and control system.”
A senior intelligence official told Ignatius that the current status of the “third tier” documents “isn’t known.”
Snowden’s reported statements on documents he kept from journalists require clarification.
In October, James Risen of The New York Times spoke with the 30-year-old over encrypted chat and “Snowden said he gave all of the classified documents he had obtained to journalists he met in Hong Kong, before flying to Moscow, and did not keep any copies for himself.”
But on June 12, 2013, two days after the 30-year-old parted ways with American journalists Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, Snowden told the South China Morning Post he had access to more documents to leak: “If I have time to go through this information, I would like to make it available to journalists in each country to make their own assessment.”
Last month, Snowden then told Brian Williams that the best way to make sure the Russians wouldn’t be able to compromise the information “was by destroying the material that I was holding before I transited through Russia.”
Snowden landed in Moscow on June 23 with a revoked passport and an invalid travel document, and the former CIA technician has been living in an undisclosed location since being granted asylum on August 1.
Significantly, Ignatius reports that “the door still appears to be open for Snowden to negotiate some process under which he would return to the United States from Russia and face charges.”
Ben Wizner, one of Snowden’s legal advisors, has said that Snowden “does not believe that the ‘felon’ label is the right word for someone whose act of conscience has revitalized democratic oversight of the intelligence community and is leading to historic reforms.”
The U.S. government disagrees with Snowden’s assessment that he is purely a whistleblower.
“If he came back and told everything he knows, then perhaps some accommodation could be reached,” a senior official told the Post, noting that plea negotiations “are difficult if you start by saying you’re a hero and wanting a parade.”