U.S. doesn't rule out possibility Snowden secretly talking to Russians
February 4th, 2014
04:54 PM ET

U.S. doesn't rule out possibility Snowden secretly talking to Russians

By Bill Mears

U.S. intelligence officials would not rule out the possibility on Tuesday that admitted National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has been meeting secretly with Russian authorities, who have given him asylum from U.S. prosecution.

The subject of Russia dominated a House Intelligence Committee hearing, featuring testimony from the director of national intelligence, as well as the heads of the CIA, FBI, and Defense Intelligence Agency.

DNI James Clapper told lawmakers it was "certainly a possibility" Russian intelligence services have spoken with Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor whose disclosure of sensitive surveillance methods has caused a political uproar.

"I would find it incredulous if they didn't," said Clapper, about any efforts to influence Snowden by the FSB, Russia's state security organization.

At least a half-dozen lawmakers raised broader concerns about Russia's global influence in areas like:

– The civil war in Syria, where Russia has long supported the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

– Support of Ukraine's current leadership, whose policies have prompted massive citizen demonstrations in the capital Kiev in recent weeks.

– The Winter Olympics, which begin later this week in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. U.S. officials have raised concerns about what they call a lack of security cooperation to ensure the safety of American athletes and interests.

"I do think that this is somewhat reflective of current leadership in Russia," said Clapper. "I think there is clearly a desire to return to great global power status. And I think that colors the behavior of the Russian government in the pursuit of their interests in which they are competitive with us."

Committee chairman Mike Rogers pressed FBI Director James Comey about whether journalists or news organizations could be held accountable for publishing sensitive material Snowden might still have in his possession.

Documents he has admitted taking from secure NSA databases were exposed last summer, revealing the existence of vast American surveillance of electronic metadata relating to phone records and e-mail.

"So if I'm a newspaper reporter for, fill-in-the-blank, and I sell stolen material, is that legal because I'm a newspaper reporter?" Rogers, a Michigan Republican, asked.

"Right, if you're a newspaper reporter and you're hocking stolen jewelry, it's still a crime," Comey replied.

Rogers then asked: "And if I'm hocking stolen classified material that I'm not legally in possession of, for personal gain and profit, is that not a crime?"

Comey responded: "I think that's a harder question, because it involves a newsgathering function. It could have First Amendment implications." He would not talk specifics, calling the Snowden leaks an "active investigation."

Clapper later said less than 10 percent of the documents Snowden allegedly took with him overseas has to do with "domestic surveillance."

He also had a personal message for Snowden, who has been charged in federal court with espionage.

"Snowden, for his part, claims that he's won and that his mission is accomplished," said Clapper. "If that's so, I call on him and his accomplices to facilitate the return of the remaining stolen documents that have not yet been exposed to prevent even more damage to U.S. security."

Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, highlighted concern over the Olympics, and whether Muslim fundamentalists in disputed regions of Russia - or other groups - could launch deadly attacks on selected targets.

Russian security forces have cracked down on suspected militants in the restive North Caucasus republic of Dagestan and elsewhere in recent weeks, after twin suicide bombings in the city of Volgograd in December.

"The primary threat, from a terrorism perspective, comes from Imarat Kavkaz, probably the most prominent terrorist group in Russia. It's made its intent clear to seek to carry out attacks in the run-up to the games," said Olsen. "We think the greater danger from a terrorist perspective is in potential for attacks to occur outside of the actual venues for the games themselves in the area surrounding Sochi or outside of Sochi in the region."

Against that backdrop, was the announcement on Tuesday that U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul would leave his post later this month. He cited a desire to return to his family in California.

McFaul has been a controversial figure in Russia, with some state-run media viewing him with suspicion for his outspoken support of pro-democracy groups.

One U.S. senator had tough words for Russia, while praising McFaul for his efforts to implement President Barack Obama's "reset" policy to improve relations with Moscow.

"I have been deeply disturbed by the campaign of harassment the Russian government initiated and supported against Ambassador McFaul throughout his admirable service in Moscow," said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican. "In my view, such conduct by the Russian government warrants concern for other U.S. officials working in the country."

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Filed under: Edward Snowden • Intelligence • James Clapper • NSA • Russia
soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Mac

    Snowden chose Russia, because he knew the jerks in the CIA and NSA could have kidnapped, killed or droned him from any other country on the planet. He knew they were out to silence him.

    March 9, 2014 at 9:58 pm | Reply
  2. aurelius

    Snowden will remain the most destructive snitch the US ever had. And those who strive on bashing the government venerate him, which is just as tragic.

    February 23, 2014 at 1:49 pm | Reply
  3. Criminal!

    Snowden became a criminal the minute he shared the first tiny piece of information with another country. People need to focus on his criminal acts.

    February 11, 2014 at 5:31 am | Reply
  4. Daryl Revok

    Sadly, whatever country is going to host him will I'm sure require Snowden's loose lips as a condition of protection. It's just how the world works. They get you over a barrel and attach stings to their "kindness".

    February 8, 2014 at 6:40 am | Reply
    • NJD

      All they gotta do is threaten to send him back to the US...

      February 8, 2014 at 11:13 am | Reply
  5. bitty31985

    More from the Propaganda machine, Give me a break.. Contrary to the governments preference there are still people in this country that can think for themselves. Edward Snowden is the ONLY person that shed light on these clandestine spying activities! If they're spying on Germany's Schroeder over Iraq war opposition ( a completely illegal war); what do you think they're doing to us!

    February 6, 2014 at 10:42 pm | Reply
    • Michael B

      Wait until you see the hits we get from outside sources not in the US, I work in Local government too. You should see how many foreign governments have active eaves dropping gear, some where even mentioned by Mr. Snowden. Yes we detect them all the time, plus I dont care whether you believe or not. Because I know in your eyes the US is the great Satan.

      February 10, 2014 at 7:44 pm | Reply
      • bitty31985

        Your delusion astounds me

        February 15, 2014 at 11:22 pm |
  6. bitty31985

    Give me a break!! More from the propaganda machine. Guess what this country is still full of free thinkers that know he acted selflessly and honestly.

    February 6, 2014 at 10:02 pm | Reply
  7. mdcambridge

    Continuous SPECULATION and NO evidence; this is the administration's and the NSA's argument. EVERY objective reviewer of the program has said that it has done NOTHING to thwart terrorism - basically, because it has nothing to do with terrorism. It has to do with information gathering to keep those in power, in power. When you understand "network analysis," you'll understand the true purpose of this very politically motivated and invasive system. Until then you appear to be drinking the cool-aid from the administration and the NSA.

    Look up COINTELPRO (same purpose, different methods) and stop making up inferences ("clearly aspire," "talking to the Russians long before...," "proves he never intended to whistle blow" And "put Americans at risk.") All BS with NO evidence. Your evidence? The word of the guys who have been proven to have lied before Congress?

    And remember: you might be comfortable now, but when the next powers that hold the reins do not share your ideology, and one day they will, it will be too late to do anything about it.

    February 5, 2014 at 8:48 am | Reply
    • Random

      My evidence is if I can leverage what Ive gleaned from the releases to do harm so could any terrorist. I've been saying all along the system itself belongs as a requirement for elected office. The reps who exempted themselves to pass it are the ones it needs to be used on. Benghazi wouldn't be an issue of figuring out what happened but instead just playing back the tapes to show what happened.

      The radical islamic's tactic, and that is who it is its not terrorists, is to devolve countries to civil war and then sweep to power. Believe it or not we are at a very real risk of that .

      It is short sided not to see the value of a well equipped NSA. As I predicted a year ago take away the tools and many will just resign and walk away.

      February 5, 2014 at 9:13 am | Reply
      • Daryl Revok

        The NSA is here to protect the globalist banking infrastructure that practically owns every major key politician from both parties. They are a tool used to thwart liberty and freedom, especially economic liberty and freedom. If we shut them down tomorrow, I have very little doubt anyone would notice, except of course those affected by the budget cuts. Terrorism would still be an EXTREMELY insignificant threat. Insignificant compared to REAL theatres of war that could possibly develop vs russia or china by our continued saber rattling. Terrorism is a hoax perpetrated by your own government. Deal with it.

        February 8, 2014 at 6:55 am |
  8. navaJohn

    Snowden is no different than John Anthony Walker or any other traitor of the US. He HAS put Americans at risk by his actions. Look where he ran to, China and Russia. Duh!

    February 4, 2014 at 6:48 pm | Reply
    • George patton

      Judging by your post above navaJohn, it appears that you never finished grade school. Anyone with half a brain already knows that Edward Snowden did this country a great favor by exposing those lowlifes at NSA!

      February 4, 2014 at 7:12 pm | Reply
      • Random

        Patton I know you are not dumb because I read your posts. That is to say not dumb enough not to see the damage being done and understand the facts available now that less than 10% of what he took had anything to do with helping Americans. His views originally were closer to what you would expect in russia, avidly against whistleblowing then all the sudden he flips.
        Did he do us a small favor bringing about a discussion on what the NSA can do to AMERICANS... yes.
        He didnt stop there and still hasnt stopped.

        How can you not acknowledge that. You are too smart not to see it, and smart enough to know its obvious and discredits you to take that line.

        February 5, 2014 at 5:31 am |
      • Erick Holmes

        If anyone's a damn lowlife, it's you. He's a traitor. Maybe you should go join him.

        February 7, 2014 at 12:23 pm |
    • Mike

      Lets not forget that this is PURE speculation that he's worked with the Russians or Chinese. The same BS that Peter King, Feinstein, and Rogers have been regurgitating these past few weeks. There is absolutely NO evidence.

      February 6, 2014 at 7:02 pm | Reply
    • Erick Holmes

      I agree 100%. I'm sure he'll get Russian citizenship being he doesn't plan on coming back to the U.S. any time soon.

      February 7, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Reply
  9. Random

    Seems like an accurate overview. I see the same with Russia (and China) , they clearly aspire to return to the world stage. At this point, commenting on public info on what he took, and who he is... 90% of what he took had nothing to do with whistle blowing (ie domestic stuff that affects us). Lets be honest the way this worked out it is more likely snowden was talking to the russians long before he got there. The Russians have honestly done a fine job in the spy business as far back as I can study. It is harder to think it is coincidence than it is to consider he could have been spying the entire time. It takes a whole bunch to look at it objectively. But the sheer volume of what he took, proves he never only intended to whistle blow. He does NOT have our best interest in mind, its just a cover story. Albeit a very difficult one to speak up against or you draw the misdirected anger of the masses.

    February 4, 2014 at 5:33 pm | Reply
    • navaJohn

      Exactly. I don't understand why people focus only on the NSA domestic activities he "reveled". He brought a lot of stuff with him to China and his new home, Russia. He isn't trying to help America. He's trying to create a cover and sadly it works for a lot of people.

      February 4, 2014 at 6:58 pm | Reply

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