- - Friday, March 28, 2014

Damage to U.S. national security caused by NSA contractor Edward Snowden will take decades to repair, the White House official in charge of cyber security said Friday.

“Make no mistake: We are going to be dealing with the fallout from that for all of your careers, and the impact that that has had on our national security will reverberate for decades,” Michael Daniel, special assistant to the president for cyber security, told Naval Academy midshipmen.

Daniel, in a speech to the academy’s Center for Cyber Security Studies, also said the Obama administration has adopted a passive approach to offensive and retaliatory cyber attacks against nation states and criminal hackers caught attacking U.S. networks. Cyber attacks are a tool of last resort after diplomacy and law enforcement means are tried, he said.

“We are going to prioritize network defense and law enforcement” before conducting offensive cyber attacks, Daniel said in a wide-ranging speech.

The presidential cyber security official also said the administration opposes placing control of the Internet under foreign governments, despite a recent announcement that the federal government will give up authority over the Internet name server group.

Instead, the administration favors what Daniel called a multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance involving both governments and the private sector that would protect free speech and dissidents.

Snowden, currently under the protection of the Russian government, stole an estimated 1.7 million classified NSA documents using his access as a computer administrator and by fooling several NSA employees into providing their passwords.

Snowden compromised sensitive “accesses” used by the National Security Agency to conduct electronic spying, along with “techniques and tools that are no longer available to us,” Daniel said, without elaborating.

Daniel said he has spent a huge amount of time over the past year “trying to figure out how to plug the holes that Mr. Snowden revealed that we have in the security of our classified networks.”

Other classified NSA systems are being rebuilt and the Snowden affair also has undermined efforts to focus on other pressing cyber security and national security issues, he said.

The comments on Snowden came in response to a question about whether the U.S. government should offer amnesty to the renegade NSA network administrator to recover the lost secrets, many of which have not been disclosed.

Rick Leggett, head of a special NSA task force in charge of the Snowden leaks, told CBS in December that offering some type of legal deal to Snowden in exchange for the return of classified NSA documents pilfered by Snowden is “worth having a conversation about.”

Daniel said he too would like to find out from Snowden the full extent of the stolen classified documents, a portion of which were disclosed to a few news organizations.

“I think it would be very valuable for us to actually understand in much greater detail everything that was taken,” Daniel said.

Outgoing NSA Director Army Gen. Keith Alexander has said he opposes any amnesty for Snowden. “This is analogous to a hostage-taker taking 50 people hostage, shooting 10 and then say, ‘If you give me full amnesty, I’ll let the other 40 go.’ What do you do?” Alexander said, also on CBS. “I think people have to be held accountable for their actions.”

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