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Snowden leaks accelerated encryption technology by 7 years, U.S. intelligence chief says

"From our standpoint, it’s not a good thing," Clapper said of accelerated advancements in encryption technology.

By Doug G. Ware
Snowden leaks accelerated encryption technology by 7 years, U.S. intelligence chief says
Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper said Monday that rapidly advancing encryption technology has made detecting potential terrorist threats more difficult -- technology that the National Security Agency says has resulted from top secret data leaked by whistle-blower Edward Snowden in 2014. File Photo by Molly Riley/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, April 25 (UPI) -- Whistle-blower Edward Snowden, by leaking classified data two years ago, contributed to the acceleration of sophisticated encryption methods that militants are using to hide their communications, National Intelligence Director James Clapper said Monday.

The rapid advancement of commercially available encryption software is proving to be a difficult obstacle in detecting potential threats, he said at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

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"From our standpoint, it's not a good thing," he said of the rapidly advancing encryption, adding that the software has had "profound effects" on the government's ability to gather intelligence.

Clapper, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who took over the DNI post after Navy Adm. Dennis Blair was dismissed by President Barack Obama in 2010, called the Islamic State "the most sophisticated user of the Internet," continuing to use evolving software for end-to-end encryption of its activities.

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And the National Security Agency believes Snowden, who exposed the agency's massive phone surveillance program in 2014, has helped accelerate encryption technology by about seven years, Clapper said.

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In his remarks, Clapper acknowledged that there needs to be a balance between intelligence capabilities and guarding against law enforcement invasions of privacy -- echoing Obama's prior statements against "absolutist positions" on the matter. Clapper called the balance a "holy grail" the U.S. intelligence agency is seeking.

Clapper cited ongoing terror threats and efforts in Europe as factors that favor intelligence sharing and sources that have shed new light on the Islamic State's operational strategies.

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DNI James Clapper said Monday that U.S. intelligence branches, including the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency, have been profoundly affected by an accelerated advance in encryption technology that could make it substantially more difficult to detect potential terror threats from the Islamic State and other groups. File Photo by Dennis Brack/UPI/Pool

Also Monday, Clapper echoed predictions by the White House and a former Senate intelligence chairman that a decision should be made by June whether to declassify nearly 30 pages of a 2004 report by the 9/11 Commission.

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Some observers have speculated that the classified pages might implicate some Saudi officials, formal allies to the United States, in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Clapper said the June time frame is realistic, and the administration is trying to coordinate agencies' positions on the materials.

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Former Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Bob Graham, D-Fla., who also co-chaired the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States between 2002 and 2004, told NBC News Sunday that he hopes Obama will "honor the American people and make it available."

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"The most important unanswered question of 9/11 is did these 19 people conduct this very sophisticated plot alone, or were they supported?" Graham said on Meet the Press. "I think it's implausible to think that people who couldn't speak English, had never been in the United States before, as a group were not well-educated could have done that.

"So who was the most likely entity to have provided them that support? And I think all the evidence points to Saudi Arabia."

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