WASHINGTON >> A House intelligence committee report is calling National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden a “serial exaggerator and fabricator” who doesn’t fit the profile of a whistleblower.
Snowden’s attorney denounced the committee’s report and called him a “genuine American hero.”
Separately, all members of the committee sent a bipartisan letter to President Barack Obama on Thursday urging him not to pardon Snowden.
Snowden’s revelations about the agency’s bulk collection of millions of Americans’ phone records set off a fierce debate that pit civil libertarians concerned about privacy against more hawkish lawmakers fearful about losing tools to combat terrorism. Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans pushed through a reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act last year that ended the program.
“Mr. Snowden’s claim that he stole this information and disclosed it to protect Americans, privacy and civil liberties is undercut by his actions,” the letter said. “Rather than avail himself of the many lawful avenues to express legal, moral, or ethical qualms with U.S. intelligence activities, Mr. Snowden stole 1.5 million classified documents from National Security Agency networks.”
The Republican-led committee released a three-page unclassified summary of its two-year bipartisan examination of how Snowden was able to remove the documents from secure NSA networks, what the documents contained and the damage their removal caused to U.S. national security.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said the probe revealed that the vast majority of what Snowden took had nothing to do with American privacy.
“The majority of what he took has to do with military secrets and defense secrets,” Schiff said in an interview Thursday for C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers.” ”I think that’s very much at odds with the narrative that he wants to tell that he is a whistleblower.”
Snowden was an NSA contract employee when he took the documents and leaked them to journalists who revealed massive domestic surveillance programs begun in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The programs collected the telephone metadata records of millions of Americans and examined emails from overseas.
Snowden fled to Hong Kong, then Russia, to avoid prosecution and now wants a presidential pardon because he says he helped his country by revealing secret domestic surveillance programs.
The Obama administration has urged Snowden to return to the U.S. and face trial. Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi has said “there is no question his actions have inflicted serious harms on our national security.”
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., chairman of the House intelligence committee, said Snowden betrayed his colleagues and his country.
“He put our service members and the American people at risk after perceived slights by his superiors,” Nunes said in a statement. “In light of his long list of exaggerations and outright fabrications detailed in this report, no one should take him at his word. I look forward to his eventual return to the United States, where he will face justice for his damaging crimes.”
Snowden insists he has not shared the full cache of 1.5 million classified documents with anyone. However, the report notes that in June, the deputy chairman of the Russian parliament’s defense and security committee publicly conceded that “Snowden did share intelligence” with his government.
Ben Wizner, Snowden’s attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the committee’ report was an attempt to discredit a “genuine American hero.”
“After years of investigation, the committee still can’t point to any remotely credible evidence that Snowden’s disclosures caused harm,” Wizner said. “In a more candid moment, the NSA’s former deputy director, who was directly involved in the government’s investigation, explicitly said he didn’t believe Snowden had cooperated with either China or Russia.”
The committee, on the other hand, called Snowden a “disgruntled employee who had frequent conflicts with his managers.”
According to the committee, Snowden began mass downloads of classified material two weeks after he was reprimanded for engaging in a spat with NSA managers. The committee also described Snowden as a “serial exaggerator and fabricator.”
“A close review of Snowden’s official employment records and submissions reveals a pattern of intentional lying,” the report said. “He claimed to have left Army basic training because of broken legs when in fact he washed out because of shin splints. He claimed to have obtained a high school degree equivalent when in fact he never did. “
The report said Snowden claimed to have worked for the CIA as a senior adviser, when he was a computer technician.
“He also doctored his performance evaluations and obtained new positions at NSA by exaggerating his resume and stealing the answers to an employment test,” the report said.
Speaking by video link from Moscow, Snowden said Wednesday that whistleblowing “is democracy’s safeguard of last resort, the one on which we rely when all other checks and balances have failed and the public has no idea what’s going on behind closed doors.”
The 33-year-old addressed a New York City news conference where advocates from the ACLU, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International announced an online petition drive to urge Obama to pardon Snowden before he leaves office.
The report was released one day ahead of Friday’s opening of director Oliver Stone’s film “Snowden.”