Congress begins to understand the extent of Snowden’s treachery

If I were to defend John’s view that “our civilization is in a state of deep decline, from which it probably cannot recover,” I would be tempted to cite the large number of people, including many conservatives, who view Edward Snowden as other than a traitor. But that argument might be unfair because the public has no idea of the threat posed to the U.S. by Snowden’s theft, and presumed disclosure to the Russians, of top secret information.

Snowden is believed to have compromised more than 1.7 million files. Few of them had anything to do with privacy issues — issues that, in any event, have generated concern mostly because they have been misreported.

Most of what Snowden took constitutes core substantive intelligence and national defense information. By this I mean what we know about our adversaries and our assessment of what they know about us. I also mean our secret contingency plans for dealing with a host of possible national security related scenarios. Some of these scenarios involve Russia, a prime generator of “scenarios.”

We should assume that all of this information is, or soon will be, in the hands of Russia. Putin isn’t hosting Snowden out of the goodness of this heart.

Until now, it hasn’t just been the public that fails to grasp the value to our adversaries of what Snowden took. Members Congress have also been ignorant. The statements of some members reflect that ignorance.

Fortunately, this seems to be changing now. The DIA has prepared an assessment of the harm to the Department of Defense caused by Snowden. Ordinarily, such an assessment would be closely held by the congressional intelligence committees. It is not prudent to disseminate this information among hundreds of legislators, and committee rules pose barriers to such dissemination.

There are, however, procedures for granting members access to these kinds of reports in appropriate cases. On the House side, these hoops are being jumped through and members are now reading the DIA’s assessment. I understand that the number of Republican members from outside the intelligence committee who have read the assessment is approaching 100.

I also understand that the impact on members has been as hoped. Outrage at Snowden is said to be widespread among Republican members, including many from the Tea Party wing.

Will this outrage be enough to reverse the Snowden narrative? More broadly, will Republican politicians – especially the many who are flirting with something like isolationism — begin to develop a renewed understanding of the threats the U.S. confronts, and not from the NSA?

The two questions are related. To understand the value to our adversaries of the information Snowden took is to understand that we have serious adversaries. One cannot be outraged at Snowden unless one realizes that the world is still a dangerous place – one that requires us not just to maintain secrets but also to obtain them. And, of course, to be strong enough to counter the danger.

So the outrage legislators now feel towards Snowden is certainly a good sign. But will they publicly express that outrage, or will they pander to the neo-isolationist wing of the party in the hope of securing grassroots cred and cash donations?

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