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NSA Inspector General Speaks on Snowden for First Time, Says He Was ‘Manic in His Thievery’

NSA Inspector General George Ellard

During a day-long conference at the Georgetown University Law Center, Dr. George Ellard, the inspector general for the National Security Agency, spoke for the first time about the disclosures made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

In addressing the alleged damage caused by Snowden’s disclosures he compared Snowden to Robert Hanssen, a former FBI agent and convicted spy who sold secrets to the Russians.

Ellard has been the NSA’s inspector general since 2007. In this capacity he has not spoken in a public forum before so that made what he said additionally significant. Had Snowden made the decision to report his concerns through approved NSA channels it would have been through Ellard’s office.

Ellard was part of a panel discussion on whether there was a “new paradigm of leaking.” The panel included Alex Abdo, staff attorney of the ACLU National Security Project, Georgetown Law professor David Cole and Kenneth Wainstein, former Homeland Security Advisor and former Assistant Attorney General for National Security.

When Ellard began his prepared statements, he acknowledged that he had approached this event with some level of trepidation.

He quoted Director of National Intelligence James Clapper whom said that Snowden has caused “long term irreversible negative impact to our national security,” has “damaged the intelligence community’s ability to keep our country safe,” has “put the lives of Americans at risk” and “helped terrorists whose aim is to kill us.”

“I do not think that these assertions are hyperbolic,” Ellard added.

Ellard was the chief of staff on a presidential commission which examined United States counterintelligence programs in the wake of espionage leaks committed by Robert Hanssen, an FBI Supervisory Special Agent. The commission, he recalled, “declared that Hanssen had perpetrated ‘the worst intelligence disaster in US history.’ In a sentencing memorandum, federal prosecutors described Hanssen’s crimes as ‘surpassing evil and almost beyond comprehension.'” He provided the Soviet and Russian governments “reams of information” and “dozens of computer diskettes” of “national security information of incalculable value,” including a plan to protect the US’s military and political command in the event of a first strike by the Soviet Union.

“Hanssen stands, I thought until last year, alone in the damage he has done to our country and to our national security,” Ellard explained. “Hanssen and Snowden were alike in that they both used very well-honed IT abilities to steal and disclose classified information vital to our national security. But I think the comparison ends there.” Yet, he proceeded to compare the two and suggest that Snowden (and Chelsea Manning) were “exemplars” of a “new paradigm of leaking.”

Ellard stated “Hanssen’s motives were venal, for cash perhaps or perhaps they were psychological, a desire to play a very, very dangerous game that is therefore very, very exciting. At the end of his career, Hanssen had almost 30 years in intelligence and counterintelligence. He knew exactly what was of value to his spy handlers and he was very specific in choosing documents to steal. He knew how to control his handlers better than they knew how to control him.”

“Snowden, in contrast, was manic in his thievery, which was exponentially larger than Hanssen’s. Hanssen’s theft was in a sense finite whereas Snowden is open-ended, as his agents decide daily which documents to disclose. Snowden had no background in intelligence and is likely unaware of the significance of the documents he stole,” Ellard suggested.

Glenn Greenwald, a journalist to whom Snowden provided documents, is apparently an “agent” to which Ellard referred.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."