BY: Bill Gertz:
Intelligence agencies in China and Russia gained access to highly classified U.S. intelligence and military information contained on electronic media held by renegade former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, according to U.S. officials.
The exact compromise of the secret data held on Snowden’s laptop computers remains unknown but is the subject of an ongoing damage assessment within NSA and other intelligence agencies, said officials familiar with the case.
One of the biggest fears about the compromise is whether Snowden, an NSA contractor and former CIA technician who hacked into classified intelligence networks, gained access to new U.S. nuclear war plans, the officials said.
The nuclear war plans, among the most closely guarded U.S. secrets, were recently modified as a result of President Barack Obama’s shift in U.S. nuclear strategy.
The president last week signed new guidance for the Pentagon limiting the use of nuclear weapons in U.S. planning and strategy. The shift is the first step in the president’s plan to cut deployed nuclear weapons by one-third to about 1,000 warheads. That plan was announced in Berlin June 19.
“The Chinese already have everything Snowden had,” said one official who said there were intelligence reports indicating Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) agents have been in contact with Snowden during his month-long stay in Hong Kong.
Snowden had four laptop computers while in Hong Kong that contained what he asserted were thousands of classified documents he gathered while working at NSA and other intelligence agencies. He is known to have used encryption for his communications with news reporters.
Asked at a Chinese Foreign Ministry press briefing if Snowden was a spy for China, spokesman Hua Chunying said: “This is utter nonsense and is extremely irresponsible.”
The timing of Snowden’s disclosures of NSA surveillance and cyber reconnaissance of China—he first went public days before the summit between Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping—raised questions about whether he was under Chinese control. His disclosures of NSA’s PRISM program and other highly classified electronic spying muted U.S. efforts to press China on its cyber attacks.
NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander said Sunday: “What Snowden has revealed has caused irreversible and significant damage to our country and to our allies.” He did not elaborate.
Alexander said during earlier congressional testimony that Snowden, as a computer network administrator, had access to NSA “web forums” that limited his access to collected intelligence.
Snowden said in an online chat hosted by the Guardian newspaper June 17 that “I did not reveal any U.S. operations against legitimate military targets.”
The comment suggests Snowden had access to military secrets but had not at that point in his defection disclosed them.
U.S. officials believe Russian intelligence delayed Snowden’s departure from Moscow in order to question him about NSA programs targeted on Russia.
Snowden remained in Moscow on Tuesday and U.S. officials said it is “highly likely” that several laptop computer carried by Snowden were “imaged” by Russian intelligence, which would have access to everything carried by the former NSA contractor.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters in Finland on Tuesday that Snowden “is a transit passenger in the transit zone and is still there now. … Mr. Snowden is a free man. The sooner he selects his final destination point, the better both for us and for himself.”
A former NSA official said Snowden’s claims of access to NSA surveillance programs appeared to be exaggerated. The former official said that most of what he has disclosed so far has been reported in the public domain in the past.
However, Snowden provided the Guardian and Washington Post with classified documents that indicated he was able to gain unauthorized entry into tightly guarded classified information systems. The documents included a presidential order on cyber warfare, PowerPoint slides from secret briefings on Internet data surveillance, and the first ever leak of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court order for data records.
John Bolton, former undersecretary of state for international security, said the Snowden case could be a national security disaster.
“Many in the U.S. intelligence community fear the worst, namely that both Russia and China will have had full access to whatever documents Snowden has, plus whatever he has on the NSA laptop computers he took with him, plus whatever he told their respective authorities in debriefings,” Bolton told the Washington Free Beacon.
“All of this raises the question how much help he had either from his media handlers, WikiLeaks, or other sources of support.”
Bolton said earlier on Fox News Channel that the administration should take punitive action against China and Russia for not assisting in the repatriation of Snowden.
Snowden told the South China Morning Post in an interview that he initially took the position with the NSA contractor Booz Allen to gain access to intelligence he could take with him to expose what he believes is illicit U.S. electronic surveillance.
“Though he has posed as a lone wolf, you have to wonder if he had assistance or help since he has been in the United States,” Bolton said. “We know since he has been in Hong Kong he had help and financial assistance from WikiLeaks. The real question is did he have help before he departed?”
Bolton said intelligence provided by someone in Snowden’s position could be used to counter U.S. electronic spying and “that’s very damaging.”
Read more at Free Beacon