NSA Spying Will Continue Despite Snowden's Leaks, Experts Say

Despite noise from Washington, Snowden's leaks may not lead to change.

ByColleen Curry
October 30, 2013, 10:48 AM

Oct. 30, 2013— -- Members of Congress were quick to react to news that the U.S. government has been surveilling the phone calls of foreign leaders, calling hearings and introducing legislation this week that called for tightening the U.S.'s ability to spy.

But despite the statements of Washington politicians, little change has really come from the information leaked by former intelligence employee Edward Snowden, who began telling intelligence secrets to journalists in June and has so far revealed how robustly the U.S. keeps an eye on its friends and enemies via technology.

And, according to former intelligence officials, changes are not likely to come anytime soon, regardless of how loudly Snowden's revelations reverberate around Washington.

"Will this make any significant changes? I doubt it," said John Sano, a retired CIA official in the Clandestine Service. California Senator "Dianne Feinstein has legitimate outrage over this but saying we need to change the rules and actually creating a mechanism that will effectively change the rules and allow Congress to monitor it is a completely different story."

This week, politicians have come out in force to question the reach of National Security Agency tactics and, at the same time, to condemn Snowden for bringing it to their attention.

"It is abundantly clear that a total review of all intelligence programs is necessary so that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are fully informed as to what is actually being carried out by the intelligence community," Feinstein, head of the Intelligence Committee, said Monday.

It marked the first time the government was provoked to action by Snowden's leaked information.

On Tuesday, a group of lawmakers in Washington introduced legislation known as the USA Freedom Act to reign in the NSA's phone surveillance..

At the same time, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota questioned Department of Justice officials over Snowden during a congressional hearing on the spying.

"Was the leaker in question, Ed Snowden, was he a traitor?" Bachmann asked.

"You're asking me? Absolutely," said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, head of the U.S. intelligence community.

"Absolutely," agreed Keith Alexander, director of the NSA.

"Yes, ma'am," said John Inglis, deputy director of the NSA.

The exchange highlights a litany of political and intelligence voices that have condemned Snowden for leaking information over the four months, even while they discuss the merits of the information he leaked.

Feinstein has said in the past that Snowden committed treason, joining a host of Washington politicians, including Sen. John McCain, who called Snowden a traitor. Even Rep. Nancy Pelosi, an often liberal voice, said Snowden's actions were criminal.

Snowden's defenders, including such varied voices as Glenn Beck and Michael Moore, have called him a hero and a whistle-blower. Glenn Greenwald, a journalist writing for The Guardian, has published many of Snowden's leaks.

"Every time there's a whistle-blower, somebody who exposes government wrongdoing, the tactic of the government is to try and demonize them as a traitor," Greenwald told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.

The leaks began on June 5, when Greenwald revealed that the NSA collected millions of Verizon customers' telephone records, and the Washington Post published an article on PRISM, an Internet program that gave the government direct access to Google, Facebook, Apple and other major Internet companies.

Later, the Guardian revealed that the NSA and British intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters surveilled foreign governments and their leaders, NSA employees had listened in on private calls, and the NSA had been looking at people's buddy lists and emails address books, among other secrets.

But former officials from the intelligence community say real change is unlikely to come because the programs are important and are working.

Sano noted that the U.S. already has agreements with some other English-speaking countries to not spy on them; at best, he said, that agreement may extend to some other countries, like Germany.

Gene Poteat, a retired senior CIA official, agreed, saying that other countries know about our surveillance and there will be no impetus to change. The real damage, he contends, has been from the media reports exposing the country's surveillance capabilities to the world.

"This is a counterterrorism tool that's been in effect since 9/11 and is very useful," Poteat said. "Our intelligence services collaborate with allied intelligence services and they've long known about this."

"The real damage he has done, Snowden, turns out to be that the printed press has picked up on it as the hottest news," Poteat said.

Both men agreed that despite the revelations that have shocked the world and, apparently, the White House, no effective change will come as a result and Snowden should still be considered a traitor.

"He exposed to the rest of the world just how extensive that capability is. It wasn't just to right a wrong. It was to expose sensitive collection capabilities. In my mind that's traitorous," Sano said.

"The short answer is he should be viewed as a traitor," Poteat agreed.

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