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NSA program defenders question Snowden’s motives

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee yesterday condemned former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden as a “thief” and said he may have had help from Russia.

“I believe there’s a reason he ended up in the hands, the loving arms, of an FSB agent in Moscow,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former head of the Russian security service. “I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”

He said that some the things Snowden did were “beyond his technical capabilities” and that it appeared that “he had some help and he stole things that had nothing to do with privacy.” Rogers did not elaborate on when he thinks Russian officials and Snowden were first in contact.

Rogers, appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, said Snowden’s actions have done significant damage to the U.S. military.

The majority of what Snowden took from government systems, Rogers said, had nothing to do with Americans’ privacy and was instead focused on U.S. military operations. That information may now have been obtained by other nations, he said.

In an interview on ABC’s This Week, Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he thinks Snowden was “cultivated by a foreign power.”

Snowden has denied turning over any documents to the government in Russia, where he obtained a one-year asylum visa after flying there from Hong Kong in June. He has also denied providing any classified material to China.

Rogers said that organizations such as al-Qaida and nation-states have changed their communication protocols in response to Snowden’s leaks and that the United States will have to spend billions to rebuild its capabilities.

In a speech Friday, President Obama said he no longer wants the government to collect and hold the phone records of millions of Americans and would like to narrow officials’ access to the data.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she was heartened by the president’s speech, particularly because he intends to continue to allow the collection of Americans’ phone records, albeit with tighter controls and with the data in the hands of some outside entity. Obama has instructed the attorney general and the director of national intelligence to come up with a plan to make good on his proposal.

“The president very clearly said, ‘We need this capability to keep people safe,’ ” said Feinstein, who also appeared on Meet the Press, adding that the majority of members on her committee would agree with that.

Some opponents of the NSA’s collection of Americans’ phone records also were heartened by Obama’s speech.

“It showed he was listening to those of us across the political spectrum,” Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “We are now in a position to keep faith with the constitution.”

Privacy advocates said, however, that there are lingering questions about how much personal privacy should be sacrificed for the sake of national security.

“That is a false choice,” said Alexis Ohanian, internet activist and co-founder of Reddit, on Meet the Press. “It’s possible for us to have security while also not overstepping our right to privacy.”

Some lawmakers said implementing the president’s proposal could prove difficult.

“The attorney general will have a very difficult decision to make,” said McCaul, adding that it is “hard to say who has the capability to store and use this data.”

In an appearance on Face the Nation, Rogers said that taking the phone records database out of the government’s direct control will bring new privacy concerns as divorce lawyers and others petition telecommunications companies for access to the information.

“The companies tell us they will be deluged with warrants on these telephone records that the companies can’t sustain,” he said.

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