WASHINGTON (AP) — Terrorists are already changing their behavior after leaks about classified U.S. data gathering programs, two senior lawmakers said, with one saying the leaker's connections to China will be investigated.
Rep. Mike Rogers said changes in terrorists' behavior are part of the damage from public disclosures by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden of two NSA programs, which collect millions of telephone records and track foreign Internet activity on U.S. networks.
Snowden fled to Hong Kong in May and since then has told reporters he hopes to stay there and fight any charges that may be filed against him.
The disclosures have raised privacy concerns as Americans — some of them members of Congress — learned for the first time the extent of surveillance powers granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to help U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies track terrorists.
The revelations might "make it harder to track bad guys trying to harm U.S. citizens in the United States," Rogers said, but he gave no details about the changes he said the government has seen in terrorists' actions since the leaks.
"The bad guys are now changing their methods of operation," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. "His disclosures are ultimately going to lead to us being less safe in America because bad guys will be able to figure out a way around some of the methods we use, and it's likely to cost lives down the road."
Rogers and Chambliss spoke after closed briefings with top administration officials on the matter.
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger said he's concerned that Snowden fled to Hong Kong, which is part of China, "a country that's cyberattacking us every single day."
Ruppersberger added, "It seems unusual that he would be in China and asking for the protection of the Chinese government ... but we're going to investigate."
Rogers said, "Clearly, we're going to make a thorough scrub of what his China connections are" or whether he has a connection to any other foreign government.
The NSA's director, Gen. Keith Alexander, who was part of the closed briefings to Senate and House members, said he hopes to declassify details of dozens of attacks disrupted by the programs. Alexander said officials don't want to "cause another terror attack by giving out too much information."
On Wednesday, Alexander said dozens have been stopped. Ruppersberger said the surveillance "has thwarted 10 possible terrorist attacks," then amended that number to be in line with Alexander's statement.
Two senators and longtime critics of the program challenged Alexander's claim Thursday.
"We have not yet seen any evidence showing that the NSA's dragnet collection of Americans' phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence," Sen. Mark Udall and Ron Wyden, both members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. "All of the plots that he mentioned appear to have been identified using other collection methods."
Investigators have been trying to determine which facilities the 29-year-old Snowden visited during his intelligence career to decide how much classified data he had access to as a computer systems analyst for the NSA and earlier for the CIA, according to two congressional staffers. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to describe the investigation publicly.
"It's clear he attempted to go places he was not authorized to go," within the classified systems, Rogers said. He called Snowden "a fairly low-level individual, but because of his position in the IT system had access to certain pieces of information that, candidly, he did not understand, or had the full scope of what these programs where, who decided on his own he was going to release this information."
Snowden's access to secret programs is spurring lawmakers to consider imposing new limits on contractors who work in the intelligence field. The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, said Thursday that her committee would draft legislation to limit or prevent contractors from handling highly classified technical data.
Associated Press writers Kimberly Dozier, Pete Yost and Eileen Sullivan in Washington contributed to this report.