CIA Director: Snowden Leaks Make it ‘Challenging’ to Find Terrorists

John Brennan / AP
November 16, 2015

CIA Director John Brennan said Monday that privacy protections established as a result of Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency leaks have made it more "challenging" for the U.S. intelligence community to uncover terrorists.

"In the past several years, because of a number of unauthorized disclosures and a lot of handwringing over the government’s role in the effort to try to uncover these terrorists, there have been some policy and legal and other actions that are taken that make our ability collectively, internationally to find these terrorists much more challenging," Brennan said at a forum Monday when discussing the deadly terror attacks in Paris last week, according to Politico

"I do hope that this is going to be a wake-up call particularly in areas of Europe where I think there has been a misrepresentation of what the intelligence security services are doing by some quarters that are designed to undercut those capabilities."

Brennan’s remarks come months after a report in the New York Times indicated that the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIL or ISIS), which has claimed responsibility for the Paris gun attacks and bombings, used NSA documents stoled by Snowden to evade U.S. intelligence agencies. Snowden, who faces criminal charges for stealing and leaking classified NSA documents, is currently residing in Russia.

The CIA director said at the Center for Strategic & International Studies forum Monday that terrorists have recently "gone to school" to learn how to make their communications more difficult to uncover.

"There are a lot of technological capabilities that are available right now that make it exceptionally difficult both technically as well as legally for intelligence security services to have insight that they need to uncover it," Brennan stated.

Similarly, Michael Morell, who served as deputy CIA director in the Obama administration, raised concern about the United States’ inability to "break" encryption used by IS during remarks on CBS over the weekend.

"[W]e need to have a public debate about [encryption] ... We have, in a sense, had a public debate. That debate was defined by Edward Snowden ... and the concern about privacy. I think we’re now going to have another debate about that. It’s going to be defined by what happened in Paris," Morell stated.

While Brennan said Monday that intelligence officials had "strategic warning" regarding possible IS plots, he did not say that the U.S. or other Western nations had received specific warnings of the attacks in Paris, which killed at least 129 people and wounded more than 350 others.

"It’s not a surprise this attack was carried out, from the standpoint of we did have strategic warning," Brennan stated. "We knew that these plans or plotting by ISIL was underway looking at Europe in particular as a venue for carrying out these attacks."

He also said that the Paris attacks probably did not represent a "one-off event" and that the terrorist group likely has more operations "in the pipeline."

"This is something that was deliberately and carefully planned over the course I think of several months," Brennan said. "I would anticipate that this is not the only operation ISIL has in the pipeline. ... It’s not going to content itself with violence inside of the Syrian and Iraqi borders."

Published under: Terrorism