Official: Snowden did not get 'crown jewels'
July 22nd, 2013
04:37 PM ET

Official: Snowden did not get 'crown jewels'

By Barbara Starr

U.S. intelligence now believes Edward Snowden did not gain access to the "crown jewels" of National Security Agency programs that secretly intercept and monitor conversations around the world, CNN has learned.

The Obama administration is reviewing what the admitted leaker of classified information actually got his hands on and what damage he may have caused.

The ongoing damage assessment indicates he did not gain access to what is called ECI or "extremely compartmentalized information," according to a U.S. official familiar with the review.

Snowden fled to Moscow after his leaks in June and has been stranded at the Moscow airport awaiting a response to his request for temporary asylum. He faces espionage charges in the United States.

With Snowden still at large and the publication of agency surveillance secrets publicized, the intelligence community may have good reason to downplay the impact of what he has revealed.

However, the official said the intelligence community remains adamant that Snowden caused serious damage. The administration believes it knows the extent of the material that was downloaded.

"We are not downplaying it," the official said, explaining that assessing the matter over weeks has enabled authorities to focus more directly on the impact of Snowden's actions.

The official spoke to CNN on background because the assessment is not fully completed.

CNN cannot independently verify the statements made either by the administration or Snowden.

Officials do not dispute that Snowden had critical information about how NSA programs worked.

"But just because you have the blueprints doesn't mean you have the manual," the official said.

A key question is whether Snowden, a former NSA contractor, really knows how the programs work at a detailed technical level.

Snowden did leak sensitive documents about anti-terror programs, detailing secret telephone metadata and e-mail surveillance.

U.S. officials have said that terror groups are aware of the Snowden leaks and are responding internally, like adjusting communications and security.

NSA Director Keith Alexander said last week the United States has concrete proof terrorists are making changes and taking actions that are going to "make our job harder."

Other officials are less resolute about the extent of the exposure.

The top lawyer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said it is not clear how much U.S. adversaries will adjust based on what is known already.

"It's too early to tell yet whether it is going to have an impact, but there's no question that they have sat up and taken notice of specifically what has been released here and the impact it has on their communications," Robert Litt, general counsel for the national intelligence office said last Friday.

The assessment also has concluded that Snowden took advantage of knowing that a good deal of information was concentrated in one portion of the NSA's computer system.

"What he had was information that was centralized so it could be shared broadly," the official said.

This is similar to the assessment reached in the case of Army Pvt. Bradley Manning where information was stored in ways that large numbers of personnel could access it under certain circumstances.

Manning is accused of leaking documents to WikiLeaks in the largest case of its kind in U.S. history. He is currently on trial before a military court.

Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said last week that Snowden exploited a weakness that came from a desire to make the information more accessible to those in the intelligence community.

"In an effort for those in the intelligence community to be able to share information with one another, there was an enormous amount of information concentrated in one place," Carter said during a panel at the Aspen Security Forum. "It creates too much information in one place."

As such, the government has accelerated efforts to better secure classified information, improvements that had begun even before Snowden went public.

The government believes Snowden was aware that upgrades were being made to NSA systems tagging data and users so that downloads were recorded, but Snowden accessed portions where that work had not been completed.

In addition, system administrators like Snowden and others will be subject to more stringent rules.

Downloads will require a second more senior employee to "watch, log and observe" what material is being accessed the official said. Access codes and passwords also have been changed.

soundoff (350 Responses)
  1. In home personal training

    Snowden fled to Moscow after his leaks in June and has been stranded at the Moscow airport awaiting a response to his request for temporary asylum. He faces espionage charges in the United States. This kid looks like a bigger and bigger idiot everyday. I wonder how he feels about Russia behavior of late.

    April 1, 2014 at 8:04 am | Reply
  2. NYC Fitness Event

    Look if this guy thought he was doing so much good for our country, Why did he run? Leaders, and whistle blowers don't run to our
    enemies. take responsibility for your actions and lead with your intentions.

    January 31, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Reply
  3. New Retro Air Jordan 11

    you can click on the Air Jordan 5 Raging Bull Red Black shoes here have are the lowest discount shoes New Retro Air Jordan 11 http://www.ajgirlshoes.com/

    August 1, 2013 at 7:40 pm | Reply
  4. Sam

    Ok. So now we know that the government has all the phone conversations and emails for all citizens. Also they have all mail envelops scanned (from who, to whom) data collected.
    But this is not the BEST stuff. The BEST stuff is still secret and nobody knows about, including Snowden.
    What a relief.

    July 24, 2013 at 10:41 am | Reply
    • E.R.

      Now that's a true hero.

      July 26, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Reply
  5. gj

    I hope they find him and and hang him in a public square.

    July 24, 2013 at 10:28 am | Reply
    • Serg

      OOOO!!!! Why are you so angry?

      July 25, 2013 at 1:40 am | Reply
    • Lollard

      I agree, GJ, officials too cowardly to parrot administration talking points with their names attached should be hanged publicly.

      July 25, 2013 at 5:08 pm | Reply
  6. Nim Chimpsky

    I love how this article relies on an anonymous source whispering information to a reporter who repeates it unchallenged. How exactly is this journalism?

    July 24, 2013 at 10:27 am | Reply
    • John Drinnan

      I agree -its why – for an international audience – CNN has lost all credibility

      July 25, 2013 at 8:14 am | Reply
    • amp

      That's how: CNN, MSMBC,NYT.....etc do their version of "Journalism." You expected anything different?

      July 29, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Reply
  7. Mark

    Would you expect them to say anything else?

    July 24, 2013 at 10:13 am | Reply
  8. Gant

    NSA Director Keith Alexander said last week the United States has concrete proof terrorists are making changes and taking actions that are going to "make our job harder."

    Ummm, so go after the terrorists that are 'making changes'? Your job (hard or easy) is not to 'monitor' terrorists. If they are terrorists, you go get them. Otherwise, they wouldn't be 'terrorists', they would just be 'angry people'.

    July 24, 2013 at 10:11 am | Reply
    • TheZel

      Umm, yeah, that's what they do... including Snowdon, the king of terrorists.

      July 24, 2013 at 10:23 am | Reply
      • Lollard

        name a single person victimized by Snowden's actions. Can you? No, because any radical islamist worth his salt already knew in 2006 or earlier about the surveillance state. If that person didn't know, then they likely were wholly inept and thus not a true threat. I, however, can point to thousands victimized by the actions of the very officials claiming to defend against terror. All snowden did was tell the public, the only remaining ignorant party, about the infringements against it by the surveillance state. If you call that terrorism, I call you an authoritarian.

        July 25, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
    • TheZel

      Actually, the NSA's job IS to monitor. The military or CIA get the info, and take care of business.

      July 24, 2013 at 10:24 am | Reply
  9. Some of You OMG

    Glad you said that, Cause sometimes the lone dissent is the only accurate version, and some of us know better than others that the clone clown posse is ever present to make sure it is discounted, Even though they themselves have no real insight on the subject and base their opinions solely on probability.

    July 24, 2013 at 10:01 am | Reply
  10. LIB

    Can't believe how many folks have extreme paranoia from this Snowden guy. This is nothing new! J Edgar Hoover. The government has always known us since our first SS# There are websites with more information about us than NSA has. Unbelievable the extreme paranoia of many because of this HS dropout. I refuse to let this influence my life in any way. If you are that concerned then WHY are you blogging?

    July 24, 2013 at 9:46 am | Reply
  11. The Big T

    This just lets us all know that the NSA is into FAR DEEPER criminal activity than what Snowden has let us know about.
    Our government is nothing but a bunch of crooks.

    July 24, 2013 at 9:27 am | Reply
  12. stalkingnightmare

    I wonder how many people know that there are people who abuse the system. Some of those who have access to meta data of everyone can control people's lives or even ruin their lives. I happened to know that when I worked for a company. I was subjected to workplace mobbing as soon as I joined this company. Couples of weeks later, this turned out to be a community mobbing. However the surveillance has started long before I started working for this company. They not only monitor every single activity of my life but also share my very personal information with everyone who comes into my life so that everyone around me has power to control me. This ruined my personal and professional life. I can no longer find a job today. I can't find any sort of legal help. This is a crime against humanity. This has been happening in US since 1960's. Today this is happening all over the world. This is my story. Well this is not just my story. This is also the story of 1000s of other people.

    http://stalkingnightmare.wordpress.com/about/

    July 23, 2013 at 11:25 pm | Reply
    • Bimbo the Birthday Clown

      I know how you feel, stalkingnightmare. This can happen to anyone here in America now as well as abroad. Did you hear about Barack Obama's defending this ignominy in Washington lately? I did!

      July 24, 2013 at 7:12 am | Reply
    • Deutschblut

      Ding, ding...medication time..

      July 24, 2013 at 9:30 am | Reply
      • Lollard

        oh okay, go take your medication then Deutschblut

        July 25, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • LIB

      People in this country have a BIG case of paranoia. The government has ALWAYS known about us and our privacy. Heck, everything we do is public information. Everytime you do you taxes, buy a home, apply for credit cards, file bankruptcy and on and on. Why are people complaining? You can go on many websites and all you personal information is there including where you live, if you have any convictions, if you owe child support, your kids names, your spouse name. What is the big deal? J. Edgar Hoover was in to this big time. I can't believe so many people are just reacting to this. Keep your nose clean and nothing can happen to you. Crazy! I refuse to let this change my life.

      July 24, 2013 at 9:43 am | Reply
      • Paco.Charte

        Dude, make up your mind. If, as you say, the government has ALWAYS collected this three-hop metadata (hint: they haven't) then wouldn't people be right to be paranoid? Only the paranoid survive, right?

        Anyway, in your prostrate abject apologies for the feds, you entirely miss the point. Namely, you say "keep your nose clean". Would you care to define this?

        July 24, 2013 at 9:59 am |
      • maskddingo

        Wise up. "They've always done it" (even if that were true) is no j6stification for it to continue... and they havent always done it... they only recently have the funding and the technology to carry it out oj this scale. As a computer scientist, I can tell you the fears about what can then be infered from that data by one of todays supercomputers is worthy of the level of concern most intellegent people understand. This is not a capibility that Herbert Hoover had... not close.

        July 24, 2013 at 10:08 am |
      • Lollard

        yeah those founding fathers sure were PARANOID. That's why they put that pesky amendment fourth in their long list of complainy-pants bill of rights. I mean COME ON, right? It's silly to think that powerful sociopaths granted complete information about our lives with no checks or oversight would EVER, EVER, do anything wrong with that info. Stupid stupid stupid.

        July 25, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
  13. Robmacin

    Who would've thought 25 years ago an american seeking assylum in russia,,,,wether innocent or not imagine hiring an expensive lawyer and paying experts to fight against the resources of the entire US gouverment. Whoever thinks this guy has a fair chance in court is naive...wether he leaked the real deal or not he is the enemy of the state now.

    July 23, 2013 at 8:32 pm | Reply
    • alan

      oswald went to russia seeking asylum

      July 23, 2013 at 8:55 pm | Reply
    • TheIntegral

      Robmacin,

      Maybe Snowden knows what he is doing after all.

      Apparently his temporary visa is a done deal. He may be out of the airport.

      'I am receiving calls from people who ask me to convey their offers of help. Most of the girls are offering Snowden a home and marriage, and men are offering financial support,' said (Snowden's lawyer) Kucherana.

      Among those offering marriage by tweet was glamorous Russian spy Anna Chapman, expelled by the US after being arrested on espionage charges in New York. She even knows English!

      July 23, 2013 at 8:55 pm | Reply
    • George patton

      Quite true Robmacin, quite true indeed. If Edward Snowden was to return here, he'd end up just as Julius and Ethel Rosenburg did in 1951. The main problem now as then, is this right-wing lynch mob mentality currently engulfing this country!

      July 24, 2013 at 7:16 am | Reply
      • Dar

        I believe that the left wing lynch mob mentality/nut jobs want to hang him too. Why, because the left is in charge now. Or I guess the left can still blame GW. Why not. the left still blames him for everything else.

        July 24, 2013 at 10:04 am |
  14. TheIntegral

    The reaction of the "news organizations" to the house moving quickly to limit the NSA spying on US citizens is not good news. It is in the British news sites, but the Americans.

    Here are some amazing comments:

    "(Senator) Wyden, in a wide-ranging speech, reiterated a warning that the authorities government officials believe themselves to have under Section 215 of the Patriot Act might also allow the NSA or FBI to retain bulk medical records, gun purchase records, financial transactions, credit card data and more. "Intelligence officials have told the press that they currently have the legal authority to collect Americans' location information in bulk," he noted

    Wyden assailed administration and intelligence officials for describing their surveillance as limited in public remarks while secretly briefing legislators about their broad scope.

    "The public was not just kept in the dark about the Patriot Act and other secret authorities," Wyden said. "The public was actively misled."

    On July 2, James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, apologized to Wyden for erroneously saying the NSA did "not wittingly" collect data on millions of Americans. While not naming names, Wyden alluded to a comment made by Alexander last year in which the director of the NSA said publicly: "We don't hold data on US citizens."

    "When did it become all right for government officials' public statements and private statements to differ so fundamentally?" Wyden said in his speech.

    "The answer is that it is not all right, and it is indicative of a much larger culture of misinformation that goes beyond the congressional hearing room and into the public conversation writ large."

    July 23, 2013 at 7:47 pm | Reply
  15. Bimbo the Birthday Clown

    It's really funny how the people in this country went ballistic over Edward Snowden's whistle blowing on the NSA by screaming out what a "traitor" he is. It's the very ignorance of these same people that will eventually bring this country to it's knees just like the horrific economic conditions brought the once mighty Roman Empire down.

    July 23, 2013 at 7:38 pm | Reply
    • joeblackbird1

      Wow! Your screen name really fits.

      July 23, 2013 at 10:51 pm | Reply
      • Lollard

        the clowns and jesters always see further ahead than the authoritarians and the buffoons

        July 25, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  16. The Vocal Atheist

    House forces vote on amendment that would limit NSA bulk surveillance. Meanwhile, CNN is all about the royal baby.

    July 23, 2013 at 3:34 pm | Reply
  17. ccpeck

    This story isn't getting anywhere near the attention it should be getting considering if effects each and every American and innocent people around the world. Is the news media so intimidated?

    July 23, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Reply
  18. Mids

    First they lose their minds about this kid, and the 'damage he has caused to us and our allies'...by telling all of us WE SPY ON OUR ALLIES...

    Now it's 'oh, gee, hehe, he just got a cookbook and some porn off our centralized servers'.

    If the knowledge we gained about being spied on was 'non-critical intel' then, I ask you, dear readers, imagine what HORRORS the actual 'critical intel' they claim he missed would be about!

    One can only imagine...The sheer audacity of the people astounds me....

    July 23, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Reply
    • The Big T

      Probably all the secret assasinations, gun running, drug dealing, etc that our country carries out and nobody knows about.

      July 24, 2013 at 9:33 am | Reply
  19. Theresa

    Mr. Snowden must think and like a good asss kicken when returned home you get used to it after awhile..careful who you trust i woulden advise it...

    July 23, 2013 at 2:38 pm | Reply
  20. solly

    My interpretation of this is that they are infringing on American's rights and liberties in an even more ambitious and authoritarian way and now they are bragging about it. This country no longer resembles the America as it was founded. It has been co-opted and corrupted.

    July 23, 2013 at 2:22 pm | Reply
  21. Deven

    So does that mean there's stuff thats much worse? LOL, like more infringing and more invasive measures?

    GREAT. So its not really a great thing...but I truly think he's lying and he's just trying to save face

    July 23, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Reply
  22. nibirutruth

    9-11 was an inside job – that is what most of you who hate Snowden can't wrap your minds around. Until you understand that, you will never get the real picture. The New World Order controls the presidency and has since Kennedy. They love to pit the right against the left – it is a game to them. They want a police state – this has been their agenda all along. And you who refuse to understand how our rights are being stripped away are part of the problem. There are none so blind as those who "will" not see.

    July 23, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Reply
    • Marcus

      Wow, paranoid much? You need help, get some.

      July 23, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Reply
    • Dolly Lanna

      Who or what is "The New World Order" Details please?

      July 23, 2013 at 2:00 pm | Reply
    • KawiMan

      You have "Issues".

      July 23, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Reply
    • Ghostrider

      You are cuckoo! Get back on your meds! Or you are a troll and still out of Junior High for the summer.

      July 23, 2013 at 2:15 pm | Reply
    • dasea

      I wanted to send my respect to you. I am sorry that certain ideas are kept out of the intellectual play book. The ideas you expressed are relevant to the over all debate about Edward Snowden, in my opinion. Those ideas are taboo. Most of the dedicated journalists and discussers will avoid those impactful statements to not lose broad appeal. You do not deserve to be slandered and attacked on a personal level. If the same number of people responded to your points and concerns, instead of instantly discrediting the commenter, then slowly those taboo opinions could help us all diagnose based on truth. This debunking method is too common, and is a disservice to debate. I do not agree with some of your points, but I would rather have that discussion than watch spoiled, childish objectors to the mere utterance of ideas carry so much weight. I hope you keep up the spirit, wherever you independent thought takes you next.

      July 24, 2013 at 9:48 am | Reply
      • dasea

        sorry *potentially spoiled and seemingly childish

        July 24, 2013 at 9:52 am |
  23. NorCalMojo

    We've lost more classified information to the H1-B program than Snowden's whistleblowing.

    His real crime is embarrassing the government.

    July 23, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Reply
  24. Albert

    My suggestion to the government is that you use a data obfuscation application. This will allow IT developers and testers to do their jobs without seeing the actual data. The true data will be masked and thus useless to those that want to steal the information or otherwise commit treason.

    July 23, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Reply
  25. Kenny Bania

    So at first its like " This Traitor leaked HIGHLY classified information! We need to find him and throw him in the darkest dungeon. He put the US at risk!!"
    Now that we know we cant get to him its like "Stupid head didnt get anything important anyway!"
    Way to save face US Gov. ;)

    July 23, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Reply
    • Ron F

      Kenny, Are you really that ignorant? Or do you just like to blather?

      July 23, 2013 at 1:15 pm | Reply
      • Kenny Bania

        just reading the article. :) AT any rate the second part of my earlier comment stands true. Nothing was 'leaked' to china or other foreign government that wasnt of common knowledge. "We (the US) are spying on you". Uhhh Hello! Was this of any surprise to them?

        July 23, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
  26. Ibcrazy2

    Sound like "the check is in the mail"!

    July 23, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Reply
  27. us_1776

    Translation:

    The Nazi Security Agency is doing way worse stuff to Americans than even Snowden was able to uncover.

    ..

    July 23, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Reply
  28. Blue

    I'm sure that he could not get into the main info, but what he did still makes him a traitor. He needs to come home and face what he did the USA. Also, go after Greenwald.

    July 23, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Reply
  29. stalkingnightmare

    I wonder how many people know that there are people who abuse the system. Some of those who have access to meta data of everyone can control people's lives or even ruin their lives. I happened to know that when I worked for a company. I was subjected to workplace mobbing as soon as I joined this company. Couples of weeks later, this turned out to be a community mobbing. However the surveillance has started long before I started working for this company. They not only monitor every single activity of my life but also share my very personal information with everyone who comes into my life so that everyone around me has power to control me. This ruined my personal and professional life. I can no longer find a job today. I can't find any sort of legal help. This is a crime against humanity. This has been happening in US since 1960's. Today this is happening all over the world. This is my story.

    http://stalkingnightmare.wordpress.com/about/

    July 23, 2013 at 12:41 pm | Reply
  30. Uncle Sam

    I have my eye on you!

    July 23, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Reply
  31. 247southland

    Why isn't CNN or any of the other major news outlets clamoring for an interview with Snowden? It's as if they were only interested in one side of this story.

    July 23, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Reply
    • jorge washinsen

      They would have someone railroaded if they could.

      July 23, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Reply
    • rosie

      You do know that this is not a "news" venue, but an entertainment one. Who cares what Snowden has to say about anything. He let the world 'know' what was already common knowledge.

      July 23, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Reply
1 2

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.