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2 Oct, 2013 17:55

'People’s lives are at risk': Intelligence chief blasts Snowden during Senate hearing

'People’s lives are at risk': Intelligence chief blasts Snowden during Senate hearing

The leader of the United States intelligence community told members of Congress on Wednesday that the recent wave of unauthorized leaks has significantly impacted the country’s national security.

During a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act oversight hearing in Washington early Wednesday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had harsh words not just for the government shutdown that started this week, but for the leaked top-secret documents that have exposed the government’s vast surveillance apparatus in recent months.

Both the shuttering of select federal operations and the disclosures about program those departments oversee are having a grave effect on national security, DNI Clapper told lawmakers in the Senate.

At one point early on in the hearing, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked the panel’s witnesses, “Does America remain safe even with a shutdown?”

I don’t feel that I can make such a guarantee to the American people,” responded Clapper. “It would be much more difficult to make such a guarantee as each day of this shutdown goes by.”

Moments later, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) asked the director, “You clearly see it as a risk to security?”

Absolutely,” responded the director.

But also detrimental to national security, added Clapper, was the recent unauthorized disclosure of top-secret documents detailing the sensitive intelligence gathering programs operated by the NSA and other government agencies. Leaked documents that have since been attributed to former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden have routinely made their way to the media since June, and before the Senate on Tuesday, Clapper said that the impact has been grave for the US.

We are already seeing signs of changes in target behavior because of their awareness as a result of the revelations in these unauthorized leaks,” Clapper said. The disclosures, he added, did “great damage to partners overseas.”

People’s lives are at risk here because of data that Mr. Snowden purloined,” Clapper said.

The hearing on the Hill Wednesday morning marked the second time in two weeks that lawmakers in Washington grilled leaders of the intelligence community about the counterterrorism programs put in place after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In recent months, those programs have attracted immense criticism by the American public after unauthorized leaks attributed to former contractor Edward Snowden began disclosing those operations in great detail.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, credited the intelligence gathering operations since installed with thwarting another would-be 9/11, and said, “I will do everything I can to prevent this program from being cancelled out.”

Nevertheless, Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency and the morning panel’s second witness, told senators that the government shutdown that started Monday morning means that more than 70 percent of the NSA’s workforce has been sent home.

US Army Gen. Keith Alexander, commander of US Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency (NSA) (AFP Photo / Jim Watson)

Upon hearing how severely weakened the US intelligence community has become due to the three-day-old shutdown, Sen. Grassley told the witnesses, “If your lawyers have determined that 70 percent of your employees are nonessential to your mission, then you either need bigger lawyers or to make big changes in your workforce.”

In response to the small number of intelligence employees who will remain on the job amid the shutdown, Sen. Lindsey Graham told the witnesses, “You scared the hell out of all of us!”

I anticipate as this drags out that we will make adjustments and probably recall more people,” Clapper later told the panel.

When quizzed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) later on about how the intelligence community will operate efficiently if the shutdown lingers much longer, Clapper said that agencies will function “on a day-to-day basis” and that people will be shuffled in and out of offices “depending on what we believe the concern of the day is.”

US President Barack Obama is reportedly meeting with Congressional lawmakers in Washington on Wednesday to discuss what efforts it will take to have the federal government again working in full-force. Meanwhile, Snowden is in Russia, where he was granted temporary asylum.

In a statement read on his behalf before the European Parliament this week, Snowden acknowledged that the disclosures he’s responsible for have resulted in his own “persecution and exile,” as well as the international debate that he had hoped for.