Ex-NSA Official: ISIS Uses Snowden Leaks to Avoid US Detection

Image: Ex-NSA Official: ISIS Uses Snowden Leaks to Avoid US Detection US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden. (AFPTV/AFP/Getty Images)

Thursday, 04 Sep 2014 10:52 PM

By Todd Beamon

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The Islamic State (ISIS) is able to evade U.S. intelligence and is harder to catch because the terrorist group has "clearly" capitalized on the huge leaks by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, a former top NSA official said Thursday.

"Snowden's original pretext that we were violating the law or that we were doing things that were simply inappropriate — the spirit or the letter of the law — has not been borne out," Chris Inglis, who was the NSA's deputy director when the many secrets became public last year, told The Washington Times.

Much of the information Snowden leaked disclosed how the NSA eavesdrops, Inglis said. This included spying on Internet communications as well as on social media.

Some of the data he provided to The Guardian in London and to The Washington Post, for instance, provided precise details on how the U.S. tracks al-Qaida, according to the Times.

ISIS relies heavily on the Internet for its internal communications and to publicize its propaganda. The terrorist group, also known as ISIL, posted videos of the beheadings of two American journalists, James Foley, 40, of Rochester, N.H., and Steven Sotloff, 31, of Miami.

Snowden "went way beyond disclosing things that bore on privacy concerns," Inglis told the Times. "'Sources and methods' is what we say inside the intelligence community, the means and methods we use to hold our adversaries at risk — and ISIL is clearly one of those [adversaries]."

Inglis, who retired in January, continued: "Having disclosed all of those methods, or at least some degree of those methods, it would be impossible to imagine that, as intelligent as they are in the use of technology, in the employment of communications for their own purposes, it's impossible to imagine that they wouldn't understand how they might be at risk to intelligence services around the world, not the least of which is the U.S."

"They necessarily do what they think is in their best interest to defend themselves," Inglis said.

Snowden, 31, downloaded 1.7 million intelligence files, the largest theft of secrets in U.S. history. He had smuggled the top-secret information to a portable USB drive that had been banned by the NSA for at least five years.

Lawmakers have said Snowden's breach could put military personnel in harm's way around the world. Snowden is currently living in Russia under temporary political asylum. He has been charged with espionage and other crimes by U.S. authorities.

Other national security experts also told the Times that Snowden's leaks have helped ISIS avoid U.S. surveillance.

"The changed communications practices and patterns of terrorist groups following the Snowden revelations have impacted our ability to track and monitor these groups," said former NSA and FBI Director Michael Hayden.

Hayden, a retired Air Force general, was NSA director on 9/11.

Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, concurred. He is a former NSA general counsel.

"Following the disclosure of the stolen NSA documents, terrorists are changing how they communicate to avoid surveillance," Olsen told the Times. "They are moving to more secure communications platforms, using encryption and avoiding electronic communications altogether.

"This is a problem for us in many areas where we have limited human collection and depend on intercepted communications to identify and disrupt plots," Olsen said.

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