Edward Snowden’s leaks about U.S. intelligence operations “played a role in the rise of ISIS.” That’s the explosive new allegation from the former deputy director of the CIA, Michael Morell, who was among the United States’ most senior intelligence officials when Snowden began providing highly-classified documents to journalists in 2013.
U.S. intelligence officials have long argued that Snowden’s disclosures provided valuable insights to terrorist groups and nation-state adversaries, including China and Russia, about how the U.S. monitors communications around the world. But in his new memoir, to be published next week, Morell raises the stakes of that debate by directly implicating Snowden in the expansion of ISIS, which broke away from Al Qaeda and has conquered large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria.
“Within weeks of the leaks, terrorist organizations around the world were already starting to modify their actions in light of what Snowden disclosed. Communications sources dried up, tactics were changed,” Morell writes. Among the most damaging leaks, he adds, was one that described a program that collects foreigners’ emails as they move through equipment in the United States.
Terrorist groups, including ISIS, have since shifted their communications to more “secure” platforms, are using encryption, or “are avoiding electronic communications altogether.”
“ISIS was one of those terrorist groups that learned from Snowden, and it is clear that his actions played a role in the rise of ISIS,” Morell writes.