Did Edward Snowden actually damage national security? There's no way in hell to tell from official documents released to the press — they have been thoroughly redacted to the point of uselessness.
Well, that's not true: They're useful in showing that the US government isn't exactly eager to reveal concrete proof that the revelations about its surveillance abuses have harmed America.
The idea that Snowden has jeopardised national security and the lives of troops is the linchpin for arguments that the ex-NSA contractor is a treasonous villain, not a whistleblower. That's why Vice sought out proof of this jeopardy in government documents:
In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) recently released to VICE News more than 100 pages of internal reports prepared by a task force made up of two dozen DIA analysts that examined the alleged damage to national security resulting from Snowden's leaks.
The pages are largely blanked out (save for the Vice watermark slapped on to let everyone know that Vice knows how to file an FOIA). They reveal nothing about the impact of Edward Snowden's decision to reveal information about widespread state surveillance programs targeting wide swathes of the population or than the fact that there were internal documents about it.
They're so redacted, they're pointless to look through unless you have a fetish for oddly aggressive media watermarks:
The only ways these documents could be more redacted is if they were simply not released.
If the Snowden leaks have caused grave damage to national security, it'd make sense if the government wanted proof of the damage in the public view, to back up its assessment that Snowden should be punished for his crimes, to back up the assessment that his actions were treasonous. The party line here is that the government can't reveal more because any additional information will screw up national security even further. (Yet it selectively leaked parts of a report to Congress to shore up anti-Snowden sentiment.)
Here's another option: The government isn't revealing more because doing so would run counter to the narrative that Snowden's decision hurt Americans more than it helped them. It is awfully strange that absolutely none of the specific ways that Snowden has damaged national security can even be summarised without fuelling terrorists. Obviously ongoing threats need to be treated with sensitivity, but the breadth of this No Explanation edict is hard to swallow.
While the government is still keeping Snowden's aftershocks under wraps, it's clear one of them isn't an immediate overhaul of NSA operations. The intelligence reform, so far, has been tepid at best, with changes made to data storage, but not data collection.
GIF: Michael Hession