According to a recent NYT article, the fallout from Snowden’s actions aren’t just damaging relationships between the U.S. and other countries. As mentioned earlier, this is also hurting IT companies in the United States. And there’s another troubling reality about the revelations regarding NSA’s surveillance operations: Al-Qaeda just got a lot quieter online.
American counterterrorism analysts noticed a dramatic decline in communication after Snowden came out and shared detailed information about NSA’s operations. This drop in communication was also after news reports showed that the U.S. had been following messages between Nasser al-Wuhayshi, who is head of the Yemen-based Al Qaeda group, and Ayman al-Zawahri. Zawhari replaced Osama bin Laden and is now head of Al Qaeda. The trailing off in communication has made it difficult for counterterrorism experts to track their activities via electronic messages. But more than anything, it is not that they have gone totally quiet, but instead Al Qaeda operatives, like so many others, are actively discussing Snowden’s details on NSA’s surveillance operations.
Analysts are also concerned that China and Russia are reviewing NSA’s surveillance programs ever-so-closely. The director of national intelligence, James Clapper Jr, along with senior administration officials, has made it clear that the fallout hasn’t only hurt counterterrorism efforts, but has also damaged larger national security operations. For instance, diplomatic ties are more strained than ever. One indicator? Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has refused to come for a state visit, citing anger that she had been spied on. Rousseff was also infuriated by the fact that the largest oil company in Brazil was also a target of surveillance.
When it comes to the quieter conversations among Al Qaeda operatives and their interest in Snowden’s information, not all counterterrorism experts agree, however. Some do not think that Snowden’s disclosures have influenced Al Qaeda’s drop in communication. “The bad guys are just not going to talk operational planning electronically,” said one senior counterterrorism official to the NYT.