Journalist Jason Leopold obtained a “heavily redacted” report that was prepared in December by the Pentagon on the “damage” caused by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s disclosures. The government refused to not censor any portion of the report that might describe specific details related to allegations of “damage.”
It contains one sensational line: “The scope of the compromised knowledge related to US intelligence capabilities is staggering.” That may be true, however, no examples to clarify this sweeping statement are in the document released to Leopold.
Julian Sanchez wrote an excellent summary for The Guardian on how the Pentagon’s report on the “grave” threat posed by his disclosures is overblown.
…[T]he Pentagon damage report concludes that the “staggering” cache of documents that Snowden might have taken (most of which he probably didn’t) could potentially cause grave harm if disclosed to a foreign power (which, as far as we know, they haven’t been), and assumed that only genuinely super-sensitive information gets classified (which top intelligence officials concede isn’t true)…
Having extensively covered the military trial of Chelsea Manning, the contents of this “damage” report seem very similar to the claims about “damage” being made by the government in that trial.
Under Secretary of State of Management, Patrick Kennedy, testified that the “damage” from Manning’s disclosures to WikiLeaks could essentially be perpetual.
Agencies and departments in government were opposed to laying out specifics in open sessions during the trial and often statements about “damage” were vague or cryptic.
Manning faced multiple charges under the Espionage Act (of which she was convicted). The government’s refusal to put forward specific examples of “damage” prompted Manning’s defense attorney, David Coombs, to argue in one motion:
…The damage or injury that is contemplated under [Espionage Act] cannot be too remote or fanciful, or there is a risk that the section will be converted into a strict liability offense. Anything “could” happen – the world “could” end tomorrow; Kim Kardashian “could” be elected president of the United States of America; I “could” win the lottery. These are not the types of “could” that 18 U.S.C. Section 793 contemplates. Therefore, the Defense should be able to probe whether the witness’s testimony that the information could cause damage to the United States is remote, speculative, far-fetched and fanciful by examining such witnesses on the fact that two years after the alleged leaks, the conclusion is still merely that the information “could” cause damage – not that it “did” cause damage…
The court martial began to unfold two to three years after the leaks occurred and the government was still insisting that “damage” had not occurred that would occur in the future.
This is what Snowden can expect. Even if there is no evidence of “damage” that the Pentagon is willing to share with the American people, he will always face the allegation of “grave” damage because the Pentagon believes anything could happen in the future and, if something did, they would try to link it to his disclosures.