It’s no excuse of Petraeus, but claim that his disclosures were worse than Snowden’s is nonsense

It’s no excuse of Petraeus, but claim that his disclosures were worse than Snowden’s is nonsense
Image: YouTube screen grab (via UChi Pol)

It’s necessary to state up front that Petraeus should not have mishandled the classified information he had in his “black books” as he did.

What the books reportedly contained (including  special access program — “SAP” — and top secret, sensitive compartmented information, or “TS/SCI”) should not have been handed to Paula Broadwell, or taken out of a secure facility at all without following security protocols.  The investigation of Petraeus and Broadwell determined that the general gave the books to Broadwell while she was staying in a private residence in Washington, D.C., and that she kept the books there for several days.

That was wrong, and there is nothing unfair about pursuing Petraeus over the matter.  (There is something unfair and obviously hypocritical about pursuing Petraeus for that, while giving Hillary Clinton and her aides a pass for treating highly classified information even more cavalierly over a period of years.)

But Edward Snowden’s implication that what Petraeus did is worse than what Snowden himself did is utter B.S.

The brief against Snowden is pretty comprehensive, and we’ll get to that in a minute.  But here, in a nutshell, is the brief against Petraeus:

1. He let an Army Reserve intelligence officer who had the requisite clearances see material that she may not have had the need to know at the time of the disclosure.  Broadwell was an Army reserve intel officer, and as such would have held certain baseline clearances at all times, even when she was not in an active-duty assignment.  When on active duty, she would have been “read in” to specific programs, which probably included most if not all of the material in Petraeus’ black books.

Of particular importance is the fact that she was an Army officer with clearances, experienced in protecting classified information, and bound by oath to do so.  Now, frankly, she herself should have refrained from accepting the black books and keeping them at a private residence.  I have no doubt she knew better.

But, just as that doesn’t relieve Petraeus of blame, it also doesn’t undercut the point that it did no actual damage to national security, for Paula Broadwell to see material of types that she had been routinely cleared for before, at a time when she didn’t have a need to know.

2. Besides the disclosure to a person without the need to know, Petraeus caused the classified material to be held improperly in a non-secure private residence.

The investigation never found that Broadwell exposed the classified material further, and she was never charged with anything.

Snowden, on the other hand, exposed far more than specific information about current operations (which is what Broadwell was given access to).  Snowden exposed NSA collection programs and methods, and exposed them to the general public around the world.

According to the Russians, he also shared intelligence from his trove of electronic files directly with them.

Here’s what the House Intelligence Committee concluded in September 2016 about the damage done by Snowden (emphasis original):

First, Snowden caused tremendous damage to national security, and the vast majority of the documents 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. A review of the materials Snowden compromised makes clear that he handed over secrets that protect American troops overseas and secrets that provide vital defenses against terrorists and nation-states. Some of Snowden’s disclosures exacerbated and accelerated existing trends that diminished the IC’s capabilities to collect against legitimate foreign intelligence targets, while others resulted in the loss of intelligence streams that had saved American lives. Snowden insists he has not shared the full cache of 1.5 million classified documents with anyone; however, in June 2016, the deputy chairman of the Russian parliament’s defense and security committee publicly conceded that “Snowden did share intelligence” with his government. Additionally, although Snowden’s professed objective may have been to inform the general public, the information he released is also available to Russian, Chinese, Iranian, and North Korean government intelligence services; any terrorist with Internet access; and many others who wish to do harm to the United States.

The House reminds us that to obtain the material he took, Snowden scammed his co-workers and hunted through their data:

To gather the files he took with him when he left the country for Hong Kong, Snowden infringed on the privacy of thousands of government employees and contractors. He obtained his colleagues, security credentials through misleading means, abused his access as a systems administrator to search his co-workers’ personal drives, and removed the personally identifiable information of thousands of IC employees and contractors. From Hong Kong he went to Russia, where he remains a guest of the Kremlin to this day.

Snowden made false claims to the public about NSA programs, because he didn’t understand them himself:

It is also not clear Snowden understood the numerous privacy protections that govern the activities of the IC. He failed basic annual training for NSA employees on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and complained the training was rigged to be overly difficult. This training included explanations of the privacy protections related to the PRISM program that Snowden would later disclose.

But then, Snowden is “a serial exaggerator and fabricator”:

A close review of Snowden’s official employment records and submissions reveals a pattern of intentional lying. He claimed to have left Army basic training because of broken legs when in fact he washed out because of shin splints. He claimed to have obtained a high school degree equivalent when in fact he never did. He claimed to have worked for the CIA as a “senior advisor,” which was a gross exaggeration of his entry-level duties as a computer technician. He also doctored his performance evaluations and obtained new positions at NSA by exaggerating his resume and stealing the answers to an employment test.

Keep all that in mind, when evaluating any claims Snowden makes about who’s doing what with classified material.

I am not, as it happens, a fan of NSA data mining or snooping against Americans.  Nor do I excuse David Petraeus for failing to honor his oaths about protecting classified material.  But Snowden’s self-serving claim, now being given prominence by Huffington Post, is ridiculous in every way.  Don’t buy it.

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.


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