A newly declassified House Intelligence Committee report states that Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who passed secrets to journalists, “has had, and continues to have, contact with Russian intelligence services” — but says the evidence is classified.
Snowden, 33, has been in Moscow since June 2013, when he left the country to avoid prosecution for sharing classified information about NSA and other intelligence-agency programs.
His material, provided to outlets including The Washington Post, led to some significant changes to intelligence gathering, such as a ban on the government’s mass collection of Americans’ phone metadata. It also sparked controversy over whether some of the revelations damaged national security.
The 37-page report, completed in September and issued in declassified form Thursday with substantial redactions, does not provide any evidence for the assertion. Instead it says the “cited material [is] classified.”
Snowden has said he never gave information to Russian intelligence. He told Yahoo anchor Katie Couric in an interview this month that Russians did try to get him to talk: “And I said, ‘Look, guys, I don’t have any information. I don’t have any documents. I’m not going to cooperate.’” He said that “the government has left me alone, for the most part.”
Ben Wizner, one of Snowden’s attorneys and a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said that if the committee “had any evidence to support that false accusation, they would show it.”
The report also cites a NPR report that quotes a Russian parliament member who, the intelligence committee said, asserted that “Snowden did share intelligence” with the government.
Snowden told Couric that the NPR report involved a “mistranslation” in which the individual was “speculating” that Russia’s spy services would approach him. “It didn’t happen,” he said. “I’ve never shared information with Russia’s intelligence services.”
Snowden has said repeatedly that he did not take any documents when he left Hong Kong, where he had initially flown after leaving the United States in 2013. “And while I’m sure they were disappointed,” he said of the Russians, “it doesn’t take long for an intelligence service to realize when they’re out of luck.”
In a June YouTube interview, former NSA deputy director Chris Inglis said he doubted that Snowden was “in the employ of the Chinese or the Russians.” Said Inglis, “I don’t see any evidence that would indicate that, and even if they were careful in terms of practicing denial and deception, I think there would be certain telltales” that would show that Snowden was giving up intelligence.
The committee chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), said the report gives the public “a fuller account of Edward Snowden’s crimes and the reckless disregard he has shown for U.S. national security. . . . It will take a long time to mitigate the damage he caused, and I look forward to the day when he returns to the United States to face justice.”
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), said, “Snowden and his defenders claim that he is a whistleblower, but he isn’t, as the committee’s review shows.”
Snowden tweeted his response: “Bottom line: this report’s core claims are made without evidence, and are often contrary to both common sense and the public record.”
The report’s allegations come as Snowden’s supporters are making a push to have President Obama pardon him, arguing he is a whistleblower whose acts revealed government surveillance of breathtaking scope.
The committee has urged Obama not to grant a pardon, asserting that Snowden carried out “the largest and most damaging” leak of classified information in U.S. history.