Remember when Americans were told U.S counterterrorism efforts were crippled due to classified information about secret surveillance programs being leaked by Edward Snowden? And remember how N.S.A officials and their allies in Congress claimed, without a shred of evidence, that the leaks have jeopardized countless American lives at home and abroad?
Turns out, the government shot itself in the foot. On September 30, The New York Times reported that the federal government’s “leak” of an Al-Qaeda plot in August has caused more immediate damage to counterterrorism efforts than the classified documents disclosed by Edward Snowden.
Since news reports in early August revealed that the United States intercepted messages between Ayman al-Zawahri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden as the head of Al Qaeda, and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the head of the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, discussing an imminent terrorist attack, analysts have detected a sharp drop in the terrorists’ use of a major communications channel that the authorities were monitoring.
While television media outlets pushed the narrative that Snowden made monitoring terrorist activity more difficult, the reality is that they never moved away from electronic communications but instead “analysts have detected terrorists mainly talking about the information that Mr. Snowden has disclosed.” Analysts say that the most significant contrast between the two leaks is that Snowden’s never specified the communications networks that were being monitored by the N.S.A.
Some officials have attempted to deny these claims, saying that it is difficult to separate the impact of the messages between Al-Qaeda leaders and the Snowden disclosures, but that perhaps a combination of the two led to the decline in the use of electronic communications. However, Snowden’s leaks appear to have only forced jihadists to adopt message encryption software and largely avoid Skype to prevent their physical location from being tracked. The revelation of intercepted messages between Al-Qaeda leaders, according to the report, has prompted jihadists to change communications methods altogether.
So, as intelligence officials–along with their allies in Congress and the White House–continue to blame Snowden for endangering national security, the government now has to answer for the ramifications of the information they leaked, information that looks like is actually threatening national security.