Fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden is being manipulated by Russian authorities, the former director of the US National Security Agency reportedly said Thursday, adding that he believed the leaks would cost lives.
Gen. Keith Alexander, who retired in March, told the Australian Financial Review that Russia would be looking to capitalize on the fact that Snowden's leaks had been so disruptive and damaging to the US.
"I think he is now being manipulated by Russian intelligence. I just don't know when that exactly started or how deep it runs," Alexander said.
"I suspect Russian intelligence are driving what he does," he added.
"Understand as well that they're only going to let him do those things that benefit Russia, or stand to help improve Snowden's credibility. They're not going to do things that would hurt themselves."
Snowden, a former NSA contractor, was granted asylum by Russia in August 2013 after shaking the American intelligence establishment to its core with a series of leaks on mass surveillance in the United States and around the world.
Alexander said he believed Snowden's leaks amounted to "the greatest damage to our combined nations' intelligence systems that we have ever suffered".
"The biggest ever. And it has had a huge impact on our combined ability to protect our nations and defend our people," he told the respected business journal.
"At the end of the day, I believe peoples' lives will be lost because of the Snowden leaks because we will not be able to protect them with capabilities that were once effective but are now being rendered ineffective because of these revelations.
"Think about in 1998 when somebody disclosed that we were monitoring Osama bin Laden's communications via his Satcom phone. After that, we never heard bin Laden communications again. And he was free to go on and develop the 9/11 plots."
On security, he said he believed the biggest threats were terrorism and cyber-attacks and these were being compounded by "regional geopolitical fissures that seem to be opening up at an alarming rate".
Citing a cyber-attack on the South Korean banking system in early 2013, which North Korea denied carrying out, he said this was one example that could have sparked a much more adverse response.
"If that attack had been more severe, we simply don't know how South Korea might have responded, and whether we could constrain that response," Alexander said.