"What we've seen in the last six to eight months is an awareness by these groups...of our ability to monitor communications and specific instances where they've changed the ways in which they communicate to avoid being surveilled," Olsen said.
This is both unprovable and likely bogus, since the vast bulk of the Snowden revelations concern US government spying on ordinary citizens of the United States and other countries to accumulate a gigantic database of all the communications linking all individuals throughout the world. This has nothing to do with fighting terrorism and everything to do with profiling the population politically and preparing the military-intelligence apparatus to suppress movements from below that would threaten the profits and property of the financial aristocracy.
The Senate Intelligence Committee hearing coincided with the release of a 27-page report, "Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community," filed annually with Congress by the director of national intelligence (DNI). This year's report for the first time cites internal leaks as a major danger to US national security and actually ranks such leaks ahead of terrorism as a threat.
"Trusted insiders with the intent to do harm can exploit their access to compromise vast amounts of sensitive and classified information as part of a personal ideology or at the direction of a foreign government," the report warns. "The unauthorized disclosure of this information to state adversaries, non-state activists or other entities will continue to pose a critical threat."
The DNI report now lists terrorism only third in its list of threats. Top billing is given to the danger of cyberattacks, with Russia, China, Iran and North Korea cited as the main concerns. This list gives a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes discussions in the Pentagon, CIA and State Department, where there is increasing focus on the prospect of direct military conflict with Russia and China, countries with the second- and third-largest nuclear arsenals after the United States.
The ranking of Snowden-type leakers ahead of terrorism as a threat has the most ominous implications. Terrorism has been used as the justification for an unprecedented assertion of presidential power to order the killing of American citizens without trial or any other judicial process. Obama has acknowledged giving the first such order, which was carried out in 2011 when a CIA-fired drone missile killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born Islamic cleric living in Yemen.
If Snowden is an even bigger threat, as the DNI report suggests, what is to stop the "commander in chief" from ordering his assassination? In the course of the past month, there have been increasingly bloodthirsty declarations from NSA operatives and congressional Republicans advocating such an operation.
The White House has not joined in the open discussion of killing Snowden, but Obama's style in such matters has been to act first and talk about it later.