Former CIA employee and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden was a product of a culture in the intelligence community that has evolved significantly since the Cold War, Frederick Hitz ’61 said in a lecture on Thursday.
Hitz is a former inspector general of the Central Intelligence Agency and adjunct professor at the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia.
“It was really run like a mom-and-pop store,” Hitz said of the CIA’s clandestine service in the Cold War. By contrast, Hitz noted, 1.5 million people now hold top-secret security clearances with the CIA, and the background investigation for Snowden’s clearance had to be outsourced to a private firm.
Contractors don’t operate under the same ethos as in-house employees, Hitz added.
Snowden came to international attention when he disclosed the existence of classified documents revealing operational details of global surveillance programs run by the NSA and other government agencies.
“Here Snowden is in Hawaii, doing his coverage,” Hitz said. “He’s a long way from the sort of atmosphere of what clandestine work, about what gathering secrets is about.” While noting that Snowden may have had some good points, Hitz said that Snowden should have addressed them by following procedures already in place with the federal government.
“He could have gone to the [Inspector General] of the National Security Agency and laid out his case, that this was going beyond what Congress had authorized,” Hitz said, referring to the surveillance programs that Snowden leaked. He added that it was not uncommon in his experience for employees to approach him with concerns.
The program of collecting metadata from telephones only results in recovery of the substance of a conversation when a national security concern is suspected and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court gives an intelligence agency a warrant, Hitz noted. Metadata records the existence of a call but not what was said.
Of 1,789 eavesdropping requests filed with the FISA court in 2012, none were denied, according to a 2013 article in The Guardian. In response to accusations from similar statistics that the court is a “kangaroo court,” Hitz said that judges on the court sometimes persuade the government to not pursue particular requests any further instead of issuing a formal denial. A “kangaroo court” refers to a court that blatantly disregards recognized standards of law or justice.
Although he pointed out that the government denied an FBI application for a warrant to search the computer of what turned out to be an eventual 9/11 hijacker, Hitz said there was room for improvement in the metadata program.
“It’s time for the United States to look at this issue and make sure the amount of money we’re spending and the huge effort that’s involved in this is cost-effective and worthwhile, as well, on national security,” Hitz said.
After a review by an independent panel, President Obama recently made some changes to the United States’ metadata collection program and related programs, and rejected other recommendations.
Hitz joined the CIA in 1967 and retired in 1998. While at the agency he worked on an investigation into the CIA’s role in cocaine trafficking in the 1980s and led the CIA’s part in the investigation of Aldrich Ames, who was convicted in 1994 of spying for the former Soviet Union.
Hitz spoke to an overflowing crowd in Dodds Auditorium on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in a lecture titled, “Edward Snowden’s Revelations and their Effect on U.S. Intelligence.”