Snowden still has contacts with Russian intelligence: U.S. House report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden “has had and continues to have contact” with Russian intelligence services, according to a newly declassified U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee report released on Thursday.

Edward Snowden speaks via video link during a conference at University of Buenos Aires Law School, Argentina, November 14, 2016. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci - RTX2TO08

The Pentagon found 13 undisclosed “high risk” security issues caused by Snowden’s release to media outlets of tens of thousands of the U.S. eavesdropping agency’s most sensitive documents, the report said.

If China or Russia obtained access to information on eight of the 13 issues, “American troops will be at greater risk in any future conflict,” said the report, which contained a table outlining the “issues”, but like large portions of the document, was blacked out.

Snowden criticized the report on Twitter, saying it was “rifled with obvious falsehoods” and presented no evidence that his disclosures were made “with harmful intent, foreign influence, or harm. Wow.”

Snowden lives in Moscow under an asylum deal made after his leaks of classified information in 2013 triggered an international furor over the reach of U.S. spy operations. His defenders see him as a whistleblower who exposed the extend of U.S. government surveillance of citizens.

In a largely redacted section entitled “Foreign Influence,” the House report said that “since Snowden’s arrival in Moscow, he has had, and continues to have, contact with Russian intelligence services.” The 37-page report was completed in September.

It called Snowden’s leaks “the largest and most damaging public release” of top-secret materials in U.S. intelligence history. The report was released at a tense time in Washington over U.S. government charges of Russia hacking of the U.S. presidential election.

The report also contained criticism of the U.S. intelligence community’s responses to Snowden’s disclosures, saying it failed to thoroughly review all of the documents he released or to implement sufficient safeguards against future unauthorized leakers.

“The committee remains concerned that more than three years after the start of the unauthorized disclosures, NSA, and the IC (Intelligence Community) as a whole, have not done enough to minimize the risk of another massive unauthorized disclosure,” the report said.

It noted that the deputy chairman of the Russian parliament’s defense and security committee said in June that Snowden, who worked for the CIA before being hired by an NSA contractor, “did share intelligence” with the Russian government.

While the report says Snowden removed more than 1.5 million top-secret documents,” other sources who have examined materials he turned over to media outlets say that the total is between 200,000 and 300,000 documents.

The report challenged Snowden’s assertion that he reached a “breaking point” and decided to access and disclose the NSA materials, including documents on the agency’s collection of millions of ordinary Americans’ communications data, after Director of National Intelligence James Clapper denied to the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2013 that such a collection was taking place.

Additional reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Alistair Bell