Rep. Rogers Rips Snowden, Obama at Hearing

Rep. Rogers Rips Snowden, Obama at Hearing
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Leading U.S. intelligence officials discussed a wide range of threats against the United States, while also bemoaning new security challenges created by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, during a worldwide threat briefing Tuesday on Capitol Hill. The House Intelligence Committee hearing, held less than a week after the Senate convened its briefing on the same topic, also re-exposed key differences between the two panels.

The House committee chairman, Mike Rogers -- an outspoken defender of U.S. intelligence practices -- delivered a scathing opening statement. The Michigan Republican alternated between rebuking Snowden and the Obama administration for damage done to U.S. security throughout the world.

Specifically, he criticized the administration’s May 2013 changes to its drone strike policy, describing them as a politically motivated “complete failure” that risks American lives.

“Individuals who would have previously been removed from the battlefield by U.S. counterterrorism operations for attacking or plotting against U.S. interests remain free because of self-imposed red tape,” he continued. “While we are busy pondering more transparency, our intelligence professionals are left paralyzed because of totally incoherent policy guidance.”

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper -- later asked by the committee’s ranking member, Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger, if the policy changes interfered with the intelligence community’s work -- insisted the administration is not “getting in the way” of the mission.

Ruppersberger was notably less combative than Rogers in his opening statement and subsequent questions, focusing on a litany of threats against the U.S. described in a report released to the public last week.

Rogers’ criticism, meanwhile, extended beyond targeted strikes. He repeatedly questioned different officials about the links between Snowden and Russian intelligence. (Rogers and his Senate counterpart, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, both made contradictory remarks last month about Snowden’s possible connection to the Russian spying apparatus.)

When the committee chairman asked Clapper if he believed Russian officials would seek out the documents Snowden took, Clapper responded, “I would find it incredulous if they didn’t.”

Later, when Rep. Jan Schakowsky asked Clapper again if he knew of a “concrete” link between Snowden and Russian intelligence, he asked to respond to the question in a “private setting.”

Rogers, after a series of leading questions about the criminality of selling stolen property, also asked FBI Director James Comey if it was illegal for newspapers to profit off of stories about the pilfered NSA documents. Comey deflected, saying that First Amendment issues complicated the situation.

The committee also heard testimony from the directors of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the CIA.

At last week’s hearing, several senators asked whether the Snowden leaks posed a threat to American lives. The officials broadly agreed that the potential exists. This week, however, Clapper was much more specific, asserting that U.S. diplomats, intelligence personnel, armed service members, and U.S. citizens are all at greater risk because of the leaked information. Clapper also reiterated his call for Snowden to turn himself in.

The hearing also touched on an array of other subjects, from outer space satellite security to maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

CIA Director John Brennan warned that increasing instability in Iraq and Syria posed a threat to U.S. national security because of al-Qaeda training camps being operated in both nations.

Clapper also asserted that, so far, Iran has complied with the interim agreement regarding its nuclear development program, and that there is no evidence the Iranians acted in bad faith.

Asked about the investigation into Benghazi, the FBI’s Comey said that while he could not publicly reveal details about it or set a timetable for when suspects would be caught, intelligence officials will continue to search for the perpetrators.

The House hearing was one of many being held on an unusually busy day on Capitol Hill. While the intelligence officials were being grilled, the House Armed Services Committee held its own hearing about the state of al-Qaeda. Additionally, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee conducted a hearing on Iran’s nuclear program, while the House Judiciary Committee focused on surveillance reforms. 

Adam O'Neal is a political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at aoneal@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearAdam.

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