Intelligence officials overheard joking about how NSA leaker should be ‘disappeared’ after handing classified documents to press
- Editor-at-large of The Atlantic Steve Clemons tweeted the ‘disturbing’ discussion after overhearing it at Washington’s Dulles airport on Saturday
- The four men were speaking loudly and ‘almost bragging’
- They said both the leaker and Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story, should be ‘disappeared’
- Comes after National Intelligence director James R Clapper defended the surveillance programs for keeping America safe
- NSA filed criminal report with Justice Dept. in relation to leaks to The Guardian and The Washington Post
PUBLISHED: 10:14 EST, 9 June 2013 | UPDATED: 16:14 EST, 9 June 2013
A group of intelligence officials were overheard yesterday discussing how the National Security Agency worker who leaked sensitive documents to a reporter last week should be ‘disappeared.’
Foreign policy analyst and editor at large of The Atlantic, Steve Clemons, tweeted about the ‘disturbing’ conversation after listening in to four men who were sitting near him as he waited for a flight at Washington’s Dulles airport.
‘In Dulles UAL lounge listening to 4 US intel officials saying loudly leaker & reporter on #NSA stuff should be disappeared recorded a bit,’ he tweeted at 8:42 a.m. on Saturday.
According to Clemons, the men had been attending an event hosted by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance.
Disturbing: Steve Clemons, pictured left, tweeted the conversation after overhearing the officials saying the NSA leaker and Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, pictured right, should be ‘disappeared’ on Saturday
One of the officials was wearing ‘a white knit national counter-terrorism center shirt,’ Clemons told the Huffington Post. He added that it was clear from their conversation they were among the intelligence community.
Clemons said the conversation initially centered around the event the men had just attended but soon turned to the NSA leaks, which were first reported by Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald.
The term ‘disappeared’ refers to a secret murder or assassination carried out by dictatorship governments.
Clemons described the discussion on Twitter as ‘bravado’ and said he believed the disappearing comment was ‘half joke half serious.’
‘They were loud. Almost bragging. Lacked circumspection about comments & jokes,’ he wrote about the conversation in the busy airport lounge.
Clemons said he didn’t know the identities of the officials or which agency they worked for. He wrote on twitter that he recorded part of the conversation and took a number of poor quality photos, which he said he would post online.
‘Was a shock to me and wasn’t prepared,’ he tweeted.
The dinner was in honor of former NSA director Michael Hayden and chaired by former Ambassador John Negroponte.
The news comes after Director of National Intelligence James R Clapper responded on Saturday to the defended the classified government surveillance programs that were leaked during the week, insisting the measures kept Americans safe and were ‘authorized by Congress’.
Hoping to ‘dispel some of the myths’ after leaked documents published by The Guardian and The Washington Post shed light on two top-secret government surveillance programs, Clapper said in a statement the purpose of the programs is ‘to obtain foreign intelligence information, including information necessary to thwart terrorist and cyber attacks against the United States and its allies’.
The classified document, published by The Guardian, detailed how a division of Verizon was ordered to give cell phone records to the NSA. The Guardian and The Washington Post also reported that another program, called ‘PRISM’, was used by U.S. intelligence agencies to gain access to the files maintained by top Internet companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook. In statements, those companies denied providing the government with special access to their files.
Informant: The Director of National Intelligence James R Clapper, left, released a statement on PRISM, which is reported to have been used to gather information from the data centers of Internet companies like Facebook, one of which is pictured left
Both the phone-records program and PRISM were approved by a judge, but PRISM allowed government agencies to gain access to various Internet conversations, including email.
In his statement, Clapper said PRISM, which was authorized in the Patriot Act, has been in place since 2008.
The Associated Press reported on Saturday that earlier this week the NSA filed a criminal report with the Justice Department in relation to the leaks.
Clapper called the disclosures ‘reckless’.
‘In a rush to publish, media outlets have not given the full context–including the extent to which these programs are overseen by all three branches of government–to these effective tools,’ he said. ‘In particular, the surveillance activities published in The Guardian and The Washington Post are lawful and conducted under authorities widely known and discussed, and fully debated and authorized by Congress.’
Clapper’s statement came as a new Guardian report revealed more information on the NSA’s tool for recording and analyzing intelligence.
Documents obtained by the Guardian reveal the government uses a data mining tool, called Boundless Informant, to map information the agency collects. The Guardian reported the agency collected ‘almost 3 billion pieces of intelligence from US computer networks over a 30-day period ending in March 2013’.
‘The tool allows users to select a country on a map and view the metadata volume and select details about the collections against that country,’ according to an NSA fact sheet about the program obtained by The Guardian.
In his statement, Clapper said the agency is limited in discussing their intelligence gathering practices by the NSA’s need to protect their methods and sources.
‘Disclosing information about the specific methods the government uses to collect communications can obviously give our enemies a “playbook” of how to avoid detection,’ Clapper said.
Clapper added the recent disclosures have caused ‘significant misimpressions’, adding he could not correct all ‘inaccuracies’ without revealing even more classified information.
In order to ‘dispel some of the myths’, the NSA also released a three-page fact sheet on intelligence collection as outlined by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The fact sheet noted the government ‘does not unilaterally obtain information from the servers of U.S. electronic communication service providers’ but only through court approval with provider’s knowledge.
Congress also authorized the use of PRISM, which the fact sheet called an ‘internal government computer system’ and ‘not an undisclosed collection or data mining program’.
The fact sheet also tried to dispel many Americans’ concerns, noting the government cannot target anyone’s computer or phone records without ‘an appropriate, and documented, foreign intelligence purpose for the acquisition (such as for the prevention of terrorism, hostile cyber activities, or nuclear proliferation) and the foreign target is reasonably believed to be outside the United States.
The fact sheet detailed how their intelligence gathering was approved or overseen by the three branches of government.
‘Finally, the notion that Section 702 activities are not subject to internal and external oversight is similarly incorrect. Collection of intelligence information under Section 702 is subject to an extensive oversight regime, incorporating reviews by the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches,’ the fact sheet said.
In the fact sheet, Clapper also highlighted how intelligence gathered using these programs has provided ‘insight into terrorist networks and plans’.
‘For example, the intelligence community acquired information on a terrorist organization’s strategic planning efforts,’ he said in the fact sheet. ‘Communications collected under Section 702 have yielded intelligence regarding proliferation networks and have directly and significantly contributed to successful operations to impede the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and related technologies.’
President Barack Obama also noted the importance of the intelligence programs in an event in California Friday.
‘I came in with a healthy skepticism about these programs,’ he said according to multiple reports. ‘My team evaluated them. We scrubbed them thoroughly–we actually expanded some of the oversight, increased some of the safeguards. But my assessment and my team’s assessment was that they help us prevent terrorist attacks. You can’t have 100 per cent security and also then have 100 per cent privacy and zero inconvenience. We’re going have to make some choices as a society.’