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What has the U.S. learned from the Snowden leaks?

June 8, 2014 at 6:09 PM EST
Monday will mark one year since Edward Snowden made headlines by identifying himself as the source of classified information leaked from the National Security Agency. Has U.S. policy changed as a result of these revelations? Hari Sreenivasan speaks with Shiobhan Gorman, intelligence correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, about how intelligence gathering has changed in the last year.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Monday will mark one year since Edward Snowden made headlines by identifying himself as the source of classified information leaked from the National Security Agency. The U.S. government claimed the revelations would jeopardize national security, making valuable information available to the nation’s enemies.

In the past year, Snowden has spoken virtually at South by Southwest conferences and sat down a few weeks for an interview with NBC anchor Brian Williams from Russia, where he currently has asylum. For more now we’re joined from Washington by Shiobhan Gorman, intelligence correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. So what’s Snowden’s status now? Has position of the US government changed at all in this year?

SHIOBHAN GORMAN: The position of the U.S. government hasn’t changed in terms of his status, although we have seen some pretty significant policy shifts, over the last year particularly as it has to do with the N.S.A. phone data program.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Right, and so in the last year, has the government changed the way it gathers its intelligence. Or how has the intelligence gathering apparatus changed as a result of these operations?

SHIOBHAN GORMAN: Well I think, it remains to be seen what will change in terms of actual intelligence collection. There was quite a bit of outcry about the monitoring of foreign leaders. There were some 35 foreign leaders that the National Security Agency was monitoring, eavesdropping on. And I think the most notable was German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And that has either you know been reevaluated, or in many cases ceased.

And the president in January did announce a set of changes, some which were to be implemented immediately, which had to do with some smaller alterations about the way the national security agency was collecting American phone data. As well as extending privacy protections to foreigners, in terms of the way the N.S.A. handles its surveillance data.

But the big question mark is still, what sort of reforms will see to the actual N.S.A. phone data program because there is now legislation pending on Capitol Hill that would implement some of the changes the president has recommended, which would primarily have phone companies conducting searches of American phone data, instead of the National Security Agency. Then it would provide the results to the National Security Agency.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And that made its way in sort of a bipartisan manner through the house. What are the chances of that actually passing through the senate and possibly getting signed into law?

SHIOBHAN GORMAN: Well it’s interesting there was a hearing last week that was sort of the first public vetting that the Senate Intelligence Committee did of the house proposal that passed. And we saw a lot of skepticism actually, both from democrats and republicans, generally for different reasons, but it suggests that the passage might not be instantaneous or smooth. Although I do think that people expect something to pass at some point. Especially because the law that authorizes that particular program does expire in about a year.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So how worried are U.S. officials that you speak with? I mean it seems that over the past year we’ve had a series of different shoes drop. Are they concerned about what else may come out in the next few weeks or months?

SHIOBHAN GORMAN: I think that they’re perpetually concerned because they never quite know. And Glenn Greenwald has been sort of flagging publicly that he does at least one significant story to come, he’s sort of suggested sometime soon. And I don’t think U.S. officials quite know what that is, so I think that they’re still pretty much on edge about it, but at the same time, once you get sort of a year into it, some of the way that they handle these issues are kind of incorporated into just sort of the normal business.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Has public perception changed over the past year about Edward Snowden?

SHIOBHAN GORMAN: In small ways, yes. But not as much as you might think. I was looking at the polls and last July his positives were at 11 percent and today they’re at 13 percent. So that hasn’t shifted all that much across America. His negatives have gone down a little bit from 36 percent to 27 percent, but still it’s sort of a 2 to 1 ratio, or a little bit more, in terms of actually a negative view. The interesting thing, however, is that the younger demographic as you might not be surprised to learn has a different view from the older demographic. So people who are of the Facebook generation, if you will, find Snowden a much more appealing individual in this context.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright Shiobhan Gorman, intelligence correspondent for the Wall Street Journal joining us from Washington. Thanks so much.

SHIOBHAN GORMAN: Thank you.