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National Intelligence director blasts Snowden leaks at Tampa conference

A day after the Washington Post and The Guardian newspapers won a Pulitzer prize for stories based on leaks provided by former NSA contract worker Edward Snowden, the Director of National Intelligence blasted Snowden, saying he risked lives and cost the U.S. valuable intelligence assets.

“This is potentially the most massive and most damaging theft of intelligence information in the nation’s history,” James Clapper told several thousand gathered for the GEOINT 2013* Symposium at the Tampa Convention Center. “What Snowden has stolen and exposed has gone way way beyond his professed concern for the expression of privacy. He stole and leaked secrets about how we protect U.S. businesses from cyber threats, and how we support U.S. troops in war zones, and other leaked documents directly put Americans lives at risk and as a result we have lost critical foreign intelligence collection sources.”

The end result, said Clapper, “is that we are beginning to see changes in the communications behavior of adversaries, particularly and most disturbingly, terrorists, a trend I anticipate will continue, and as a consequence, our nation is less safe and our people less secure,”

Many of the leaks have focused on the NSA’s secret bulk data collection. A team of 28 Post journalists, led by reporter Barton Gellman, won the Pulitzer public service award, as did Guardian US, which also reported extensively about the NSA’s secret programs, the Post said on its website.

“Gellman and Glenn Greenwald, then the Guardian’s lead reporter on the NSA pieces, based their articles on classified documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the former government contractor who has fled to exile in Russia, lending a controversial edge to this year’s awards,” the Post noted.

Clapper, in his speech, took issue at the media’s coverage of the leaks.

“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 has eroded in front of our eyes.”

Clapper added that he is “greatly disturbed” by reading a story in the Washington Post about how college recruiters are seeing an increasing number of essays from potential students identifying Snowden as a hero.

Instead, Clapper countered with the example of Joseph Darby, an Army sergeant who exposed the abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and found that his life, and the lives of his family back home were threatened.

“There is a sharp contrast between Joe Darby and Edward Snowden,” said Clapper, adding that unlike Darby, Snowden did not report his concerns to investigators before going public.

Clapper was the first keynote speaker at a conference bringing together about 4,000 people in the intelligence, military and homeland security communities.

The conference was supposed to be held in October, but was scuttled because of the government shutdown. In his speech, Clapper said that the “past 18 months is one of toughest stretches for the intelligence community I have seen in my 50 years in the business. All of you know it has not been a fun year for me personally.”

Among other things, in January, a bipartisan group of six congressman, including Florida Democratic Representative Alan Grayson, accused Clapper of lying to Congress about the NSA’s bulk data collection and urged President Barack Obama to fire him.

Clapper on Tuesday announced that he was staying at the helm as long as Obama would have him.

The GEOINT Symposium is expected to bring in nearly $3 million in short-term revenue fot the Tampa area, help bolster long-term business for defense contractors and spark discussions about the future of intelligence at a time of challenge and change.

Organizers say having the 10th anniversary symposium in Tampa for the first time is important. U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Central Command — both headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base — “are voracious consumers of intelligence,” says Keith Masback, CEO of the U.S. Geospatial Foundation, a nonprofit organization that puts on the symposium.

In addition to Clapper, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Letitia A. Long this morning spoke about her vision for the future of geospatial intelligence.

The NGA, she said, “is uniquely positioned to build this new platform for intelligence immersion. Everything, everyone is somewhere on the earth at some point in time, and we provide that geospatial foundation that all of the other (intelligence fields), can be anchored to in that object-based production.

Defense Intelligence Agency Director, Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, talked about emerging threats in a world that will see the population explode and people increasingly moving to coastal cities.

By 2020, there will be 500 cities around the globe with a million or more residents, he noted.

Centcom commander Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III is a keynote speaker tomorrow at 8:45 a.m.. Socom commander Adm. William McRaven is scheduled to speak Thursday at 9 a.m.

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