National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander recently told the
Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairsthat Edward Snowden took as many as 200,000 classified documents with him when the NSA systems administrator left Hawaii for Hong Kong on May 20,
Tom Gjelten of NPR reports.
If true, that’s a remarkable number — 20 times the number of documents that Glenn Greenwald said he and filmmaker Laura Poitras had received from Snowden in Hong Kong.
Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, is accused of carrying 58,000 documents relating to the UK’s GCHQ spy agency when he was detained at London’s Heathrow airport in August.
The “constantly upward-revised number of documents Snowden stole” is troubling for two primary reasons: First, there would be no way for Snowden to “carefully vet” that many documents in a few months. Second, we still don’t know what exactly Snowden did with the files, or when he gave up access, in China.
The 30-year-old reportedly told James Risen of The New York Times that he gave all of the materials to journalists he met in Hong Kong and kept no copies, but that doesn’t jibe with his previous statements and actions.
Greenwald told the Daily Beast in June that he believes Snowden did not provide all of the documents to journalists. And Snowden himself said: “There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over.”
So the question remains: What did Snowden do with the NSA documents after he parted ways with Greenwald and Poitras on June 10?
On June 12 he leaked some information to the South China Morning Post and said: “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.”
Little is known after that before Snowden reportedly spent a few days in the Russian consulate in Hong Kong before flying to Moscow on June 23.
Intelligence officials told NPR that they believe the up to 200,000 leaked documents fall into four categories: NSA capabilities, NSA intelligence reports assembled on the basis of its collection of electronic intercepts, NSA partnerships, and spying requests from other U.S. government agencies.
An added concern is that some of the information may not to relate to mass surveillance of citizens, which is Snowden’s stated cause.
Last month The Washington Post reported that U.S. officials believe Snowden took 30,000 U.S. documents that do “not deal with NSA surveillance but primarily with standard intelligence about other countries’ military capabilities, including weapons systems.”
In any case, anywhere close to 200,000 NSA documents is a mind-boggling amount of classified information.
If the journalists didn’t receive the entire cache, and Snowden claims that he gave up access to the NSA files before he flew to Russia, then what happened to all of that intel?
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