Former CIA employee Edward Snowden divulged as many as 200,000 classified documents to the press, says NSA Director General Keith Alexander. The spy chief said the data was leaked in such a way that it did the “maximum damage” to the NSA and the USA.
Alexander shed light on the amount of classified files stolen by
Snowden at a question-and-answer session on October 31 in
Baltimore. The transcript of the speech was made public by the
NSA on Thursday.
“I wish there was a way to prevent it. Snowden has shared somewhere between 50 [thousand] and 200,000 documents with reporters. These will continue to come out,” Alexander said.
He added that the security leaks had been done in a way “that does the maximum damage to NSA and our nation.”
Alexander slammed Snowden’s activities as “absolutely wrong” and said the leaks increased the chances a terrorist attack will “get through.”
“We're at their mercy. They're putting them out, one or two a week, to cause the maximum problem. They get it wrong,” said Alexander in the address, adding that it was very difficult to prevent such data leaks.
Although the information divulged by Snowden has been labeled ‘the worst security leak’ in history, over twice as many documents were handed over to WikiLeaks by Private Chelsea Manning. However, none of the data that was given to WikiLeaks was classified higher than ‘Secret’, whereas most of the Snowden documents were either ‘Top Secret’ or ‘Special Intelligence’.
In his speech, the spy chief touched upon reports that the NSA had recorded more than 70 million telephone calls of French citizens over a 30 day period. In an attempt to allay fears the NSA is eavesdropping on French civilians, Alexander said the data gathering was aimed at supporting NATO-related activities.
“None of that information was collected in France, on French people or European citizens,” he said. Le Monde, the French publication that originally received the information on the NSA’s spy activities in France from Snowden said they had reason to believe that US espionage was not only aimed at combatting terrorism, but also targeted high-profile politicians and business figures.
Alexander described the uproar caused in the wake of the leaks released by Snowden in Europe “huge.”
“And it's interesting. It's almost like ‘the War of the Worlds,’” he added.
Snowden’s revelations caused rifts to develop between the US and its traditional European allies. A special EU delegation went to Washington at the end of October to demand an explanation for the reports of mass espionage on EU citizens. Additionally, Germany sent a separate delegation to get answers over allegations that the NSA listened in on the personal communications of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In response to the spy report, the EU threatened to suspend talks to negotiate a lucrative free trade deal with the US that could boost economic growth by $100 billion per year. In spite of the threats, EU and US policymakers agreed to hold two more rounds of trade negotiations over the next two months, The Wall Street Journal reports. Germany, however, could potentially stall an agreement, demanding that data protection be included as a condition in the deal.