WASHINGTON: “The damage assessment is still underway,” about the effects of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency’s monitoring of web and email traffic, a typically cool and careful commander of US Strategic Command told me this morning. But it’s definitely bad.
“It’s going to take us awhile to understand the damage,” said Gen. Bob Kehler, who oversees cyber warfare for the United States (Gen. Keith Alexander, who heads both the National Security Agency and US Cyber Command, reports to Kehler, sort of). He conceded that NSA methods had been compromised and that allows terrorists and other bad guys to “devise countermeasures.” He told the Defense Writers Group breakfast that the question wasn’t whether foreign spies and terrorists know they are being monitored “but how.” He referred to the type of information Snowden released as “the deepest of the deep secrets.”
While Gen. Kehler was his usual careful self, a former senior allied intelligence official recently described Snowden’s actions to me as “catastrophic.”
Best quote on Snowden and his apparent new home comes from Rep. Mike Turner, chairman of the House Armed Services on tactical air and land forces subcommittee: “Clearly this wasn’t about individual rights and liberties, or he wouldn’t have chosen asylum in Russia.”
In other news, Kehler said he “personally” believes the US needs to replace the SR-71 Blackbird — a system capable of penetrating hostile airspace and performing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) — with something. He hinted that replacement might be associated with the Long Range Bomber program (also known as Long Range Strike). But the basic problem is “we can’t yet make final decisions” because of the current budget mess. Now that’s something that must have the Chinese smiling: America can’t afford to build a system needed for anti-access/area denial operations.