Skip to main content

Military spy chief: Have to assume Russia knows U.S. secrets

By Tom Cohen, CNN
March 10, 2014 -- Updated 0055 GMT (0855 HKT)
National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden poses with German Green party parliamentarian Hans-Christian Stroebele in Moscow on October 31. Stroebele returned from the meeting with a letter from Snowden to German authorities, which was distributed to the media. In it, Snowden said he is confident that with international support, the United States would abandon its efforts to "treat dissent as defection" and "criminalize political speech with felony charges." National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden poses with German Green party parliamentarian Hans-Christian Stroebele in Moscow on October 31. Stroebele returned from the meeting with a letter from Snowden to German authorities, which was distributed to the media. In it, Snowden said he is confident that with international support, the United States would abandon its efforts to "treat dissent as defection" and "criminalize political speech with felony charges."
HIDE CAPTION
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Military strategy requires examining worst-case scenarios
  • Lt. Gen. Flynn says classified leaker Edward Snowden could have military plans
  • Flynn: If Russia doesn't have Snowden's information yet, it's trying to get it
  • Snowden is living in Russia while he seeks political asylum

Washington (CNN) -- In the world of military strategy, every contingency must be examined, especially the worst-case scenario.

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, made that clear when he told National Public Radio in an interview broadcast Friday how U.S. officials must plan for the possibility that Vladimir Putin's Russia has access to American battle plans and other secrets possibly taken by classified leaker Edward Snowden.

"If I'm concerned about anything, I'm concerned about defense capabilities that he may have stolen from where he worked, and does that knowledge then get into the hands of our adversaries — in this case, of course, Russia," Flynn said of the former National Security Agency contractor who fled to Moscow to seek asylum.

A hero to some and traitor to others, Snowden last year disclosed details of the vast U.S. surveillance network put in place after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, including how the government keeps records on billions of phone calls for possible use in terrorism investigations.

Flynn said he worried about what else Snowden knows, and how Russia -- where Snowden lives now -- may have access to the documents. He cited intelligence capabilities, operational capabilities, technology and weapons systems as potential subjects of so far unpublicized information Snowden -- and Russia -- may have.

Snowden to speak at SXSW
The trick behind Snowden leaks revealed
Boss: Snowden worst spy in U.S. history

"We really don't know" what Snowden's got, Flynn said, adding that "we have to assume the worst case and then begin to make some recommendations to our leadership about how do we mitigate some of the risks that may come from what may have been compromised."

He added that the intelligence community also must assume that Russia either already has the information taken by Snowden or is trying to get it, adding "that would be very serious."

Because of the possibility, "we have to make some judgments, recommendations about ... how to respond to that," Flynn said.

"We're going to be dealing with this for many, many years," he noted, saying procedures, techniques and tactics currently in use may have to be changed.

Flynn spoke as Putin has moved troops into the Crimea Peninsula of Ukraine in a showdown with the United States and its European allies over the former Soviet region's independence.

In January, he and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Snowden leaks already caused serious damage to U.S. security.

"What Snowden has stolen and exposed has gone way, way beyond his professed concerns with so-called domestic surveillance programs," Clapper said then. "As a result, we've lost critical foreign intelligence collection sources, including some shared with us by valued partners."

Terrorists and other adversaries of America were "going to school on U.S. intelligence sources' methods and trade craft, and the insights that they are gaining are making our job much, much harder," Clapper told the committee.

"Snowden claims that he's won and that his mission is accomplished," Clapper also noted. "If that is 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."

Flynn told the panel that "the greatest cost that is unknown today but that we will likely face is the cost of human lives on tomorrow's battlefield or in some place where we will put our military forces when we ask them to go into harm's way."

CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Data mining & privacy
June 23, 2013 -- Updated 1425 GMT (2225 HKT)
He's a high-school dropout who worked his way into the most secretive computers in U.S. intelligence as a defense contractor.
May 29, 2014 -- Updated 1226 GMT (2026 HKT)
Traitor or patriot? Low-level systems analyst or highly trained spy?
May 29, 2014 -- Updated 1927 GMT (0327 HKT)
What are the takeaways from Snowden's NBC interview? You might be surprised.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1152 GMT (1952 HKT)
Months after accepting asylum in Russia, Snowden asked Putin about Moscow's own surveillance practices.
March 12, 2014 -- Updated 1643 GMT (0043 HKT)
A federal judge has refused the Obama administration's request to extend storage of classified NSA telephone surveillance data beyond the current five-year limit.
March 10, 2014 -- Updated 0044 GMT (0844 HKT)
From his sanctuary in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Julian Assange said that everyone in the world will be just as effectively monitored soon -- at least digitally.
March 11, 2014 -- Updated 0039 GMT (0839 HKT)
In a rare public talk via the Web, fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden urged a tech conference audience to help "fix" the U.S. government's surveillance of its citizens.
August 2, 2013 -- Updated 0355 GMT (1155 HKT)
The White House is "very disappointed" that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia.
December 10, 2013 -- Updated 1357 GMT (2157 HKT)
Spies with surveillance agencies in the U.S. and U.K. infiltrated video games like "World of Warcraft" in a hunt for terrorists "hiding in plain sight" online.
August 2, 2013 -- Updated 1139 GMT (1939 HKT)
Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden both held jobs that gave them access to some of their country's most secret and sensitive intelligence. They chose to share that material with the world and are now paying for it.
August 1, 2013 -- Updated 1435 GMT (2235 HKT)
The NSA's controversial intelligence-gathering programs have prevented 54 terrorist attacks around the world, including 13 in the United States.
August 1, 2013 -- Updated 1854 GMT (0254 HKT)
You've never heard of XKeyscore, but it definitely knows you. The National Security Agency's top-secret program essentially makes available everything you've ever done on the Internet.
August 18, 2013 -- Updated 1304 GMT (2104 HKT)
You may have never heard of Lavabit and Silent Circle. That's because they offered encrypted (secure) e-mail services, something most Americans have probably never thought about needing.
July 24, 2013 -- Updated 1854 GMT (0254 HKT)
"Any analyst at any time can target anyone. Any selector, anywhere ... I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone."
July 2, 2013 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
President Barack Obama responds to outrage by European leaders over revelations of alleged U.S. spying.
April 1, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
Browse through a history of high-profile intelligence leaking cases.
July 2, 2013 -- Updated 1437 GMT (2237 HKT)
Former President George W. Bush talks Snowden, AIDS, Mandela and his legacy.
June 26, 2013 -- Updated 1304 GMT (2104 HKT)
Edward Snowden took a job with an NSA contractor in order to gather evidence about U.S. surveillance programs.
June 19, 2013 -- Updated 1047 GMT (1847 HKT)
With reports of NSA snooping, many people have started wondering about their personl internet security.
August 14, 2013 -- Updated 1352 GMT (2152 HKT)
Click through our gallery to learn about other major leaks and what happened in the aftermath.
June 9, 2013 -- Updated 2002 GMT (0402 HKT)
What really goes on inside America's most secretive agency? CNN's Chris Lawrence reports.
ADVERTISEMENT