TAMPA — The nation's intelligence chief didn't wait for the next-day, Pulitzer Prize hangovers to recede before criticizing leaks of National Security Agency surveillance that helped two newspapers win journalism's highest honor.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a crowd at the Tampa Convention Center on Tuesday that the NSA leaks, which helped The Guardian and Washington Post win a Pulitzer, put the nation at risk and jeopardized American lives.
The comments came at an intelligence conference less than a day after the Pulitzer Prizes were announced. Clapper did not directly speak about the prizes, nor any newspaper's individual coverage.
His ire was directed mostly at Edward Snowden, the NSA contract employee whose leaks caused a crisis in the U.S. intelligence community.
"The very first article, and many of those published since, have been inaccurate, misleading or incomplete in how they characterize intelligence activities," Clapper said. "Still, they revealed vital intelligence secrets. So we have watched as our intelligence advantage eroded in front of our eyes."
Speaking at an intelligence symposium that attracted industry and military officials, Clapper said the leaks by Snowden "were potentially the most massive and most damaging theft of intelligence information in the nation's history."
Clapper said he was upset to read a recent article that said students often refer to Snowden as a "personal hero" in essays written as they seek college admission.
"And the idea that young people see Edward Snowden as hero really bothers me," Clapper said.
He said Snowden could have approached appropriate investigators, not the media, had he been legitimately concerned about the NSA's alleged infringements on civil liberties.
"I personally believe that whistle-blowing in its highest form takes an incredible amount of courage and integrity," Clapper said. "But Snowden isn't a whistle-blower."
Instead, Clapper said, students should look up to someone like Joe Darby, a soldier who brought to the attention of authorities prisoner abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison used by U.S. forces in Iraq.
"I'd like to see admissions essays on him," Clapper said.
The Snowden leaks, Clapper said, limited the nation's intelligence sources and schooled the nation's enemies. In fact, he said, adversaries have already changed the way they communicate.
The intelligence conference, organized by the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, continues through Thursday.
William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected]