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Now With Alex
updated 7/1/2013 4:17:38 PM ET 2013-07-01T20:17:38

"I don't think it has really put Americans at risk," Wired magazine's James Bamford said.

On Monday’s Now with Alex Wagner, guest host Joy Reid and the panel discussed Edward Snowden’s latest leak to German magazine Der Speiegel. The leak revealed that the U.S. had spied on its European allies, including bugging the E.U. diplomatic mission in Washington and tapping into its computer network in 2010.

The latest leak, as well as a previous one published in The Guardian last month detailing the NSA’s interception of then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s phone calls, have caused diplomatic headaches for the administration and called into question Snowden’s stated goal of raising awareness of the domestic surveillance the U.S. government conducts on its citizens.

Wired magazine’s James Bamford, author of “The Shadow Factory: The NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America,” said this latest leak hadn’t really harmed American security.

“I don’t think it has really put Americans at risk,” he said. “I think what it’s done is pretty much confirm what most of the people in Europe pretty much assumed all along–that the U.S. spies.”

He added, “It’s been going on a long time. What is unusual is not that these revelations have come out, but that you actually have the revelations backed up by actual inside NSA documents.”

President Barack Obama, speaking at a press conference in Tanzania Monday, made largely the same point.

“I guarantee you that in European capitals there are people who are interested, if not in what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be,” he said. “That’s how intelligence services operate.”

Video: Is Snowden helping or hurting the public?

  1. Closed captioning of: Is Snowden helping or hurting the public?

    >>> by nsa leaker edward snowden has set up a furious debate over civil liberties , but has it also harmed our national security ? that question has divided people across the ideological divide pitting allies against each other. julian assange sound insisted transparency is its own justification.

    >> he is a hero. he has told the people of the world and the united states that there is mass unlawful interception of their communications, far beyond anything that happened under nixon.

    >> on the other side, house minority leader nancy pelosi . she took the opposite viewpointing to the damage done to the u.s. by snowden .

    >> i think that anybody who thought he was a hero to begin with, now that he's threatening in any event to share information with russian and china, if in fact he has any information, i think that should disabuse anybody of the notion that he is a hero.

    >> pelosi's reaction came after snowden 's latest leak, this time to a german magazine which revealed the u.s. spied on its european allies by bugging an eu building in washington and tapping into its commuter network. many allies weren't pleased with the revelations with the french president saying we cannot accept this kind of behavior. at a press conference in tanzania this morning, president obama sought to down play the controversy suggesting this is something practiced by all countries, not just the u.s. in other words, countries spy on each other.

    >> i guarantee that you in european capitals there are people who are interested in if not what i had for breakfast, in at least what my talk points might be should i end up meeting with their leaders. that's how intelligence services operate.

    >> and joining us now from washington, james bamford , author of "the shadow factory, the ultra secret nsa from 9/11 to the eavesdropping on america ." his nsa story also graces the latest cover of the issue of "wired" magazine. james , thanks for being with us.

    >> my pleasure.

    >> james , answer that question for us. we have only heard about the spying that goes one way from the u.s. toward our european allies. but is it true that the same kind of intelligence is gathered by european and other allies, russians, et cetera , against us?

    >> well, it's true that they would like to collect intelligence from us and it is true that they try to collect intelligence from us. the difference is we have basically the nuclear weapon equivalent of eavesdropping machine and they have the equivalent of an army howitzer. so we have far more money to spend on eavesdropping, far more technical capability, far more personnel, far more access and they are fairly limited when it comes to all of those things. so although they try to spy on the u.s., the u.s. has enough capabilities to pretty. much deny a lot of the activities or deny them the capabilities for spying on us while we have enormous capabilities to spy on them.

    >> then james , given that we do have technological superior or the, have the revelations by snowden , which sort of give our allies and adversaries a window into our technical superior or the, have his revelations put americans at risk?

    >> i don't think they really put americans at risk. i think what it's done is pretty much confirm what most of the people in europe have assumed all along, especially in the european governments, that the u.s. spies, that in my very first book i wrote, "the puzzle palace," i wrote how the u.s. was doing this -- the predecessor to the nsa was doing this in 1921 in france spying on a meeting of europeans in paris. so it's been going on for a very long time. what is very unusual is not that these revelations have come out, because revelations like this come out every now and then. it is that you actually have the revelations backed up by actual inside nsa documents.

    >> well, i want to come out to the panel. michael, the lexington herald leader had an interesting ining op-ed. " snowden could have taken his information to an organization or politician in this country who was willing to stand with him as he blew the whistle. instead, he took our dirty laundry to our enemies who have no problem lording it over us and using it against us. when you give the enemy an advantage over your homeland, you become a benedict arnold who also thought he was a true patriot. could that also apply to giving information to our allies who can lord it over us?

    >> i was just reading your e-mail to reggie mantel yesterday. i'm sorry. don't have any expert -- look, i'm torn on this. on one hand, they call martin luther king jr . benedict arnold . there's been a whole history -- albert einstein . we've spied on our own citizens, for that matter, and done some horrible things. at the same time, i'm not trying to celebrate mr. snowden as some kind of einstein/king. i think if he felt comfortable with the fact that america would treat him justly maybe he would stand for the justice that could be meted out here. at the same time, somebody can say if you want to be compared to the greats in our history, they've been willing to do what they did and then stand for the consequences right here in america . so it is really tough.

    >> i think the line was a lot clearer when what he had ward snowden was talking about was the collection of metadata of american citizens, when he was talking about e-mail or telephone data of americans . now we've gone into this other territory. we're talking about it is stuff that could really undermine our diplomatic relations . does it now seem less clear that what he was doing was straight-ahead whistle blowing?

    >> he's now in a political power struggle with the u.s. government so he's going to use the political tools that are at his disposal. like you you said, if we hadn't tortured bradley manning, we'd have a better case of saying stay with us and go through our system of due process here. the president said, look. this is what intelligence services do. well, had this is what competent intelligent services do and ours has become incompetent because it is leaking like a sieve. the reason is this eavesdropping that's overclassification, it is un-american. you have the people who are working in it, the americans who are working in it, repulsed by it and, whether it is bradley manning, snowden , whether it is all of these other leakers, they are pushing this stuff out into the public because they disagree with it.

    >> i think the obama administration would disagree that they tortured bradley manning.

    >> but they tortured him. i mean made him stand naked for a year in a cold cell.

    >> they would disagree. they are competent to reach into our lives at every moment or incompetent and can't handle it.

    >> they can't keep it secret. james bamford , one sort of exit question. the claim on the nsa side is that they are trying to really stop catastrophic potential attacks on our infrastructure, et cetera . can you explain what it is that they say they are protecting against?

    >> well, they're trying to protect against supposedly the russians and the chinese launching cyber attacks on us. the irony here is that the director of nsa is also the head of the cyber command who's supposed to protect the u.s. government communications, and yet u.s. communications and technical infrastructure and he has one of his own people that's going out and causing probably the most elaborate leak of information in years.

    >> well, james bamford , thank you

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