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Washington - A classified Pentagon report concludes that former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden downloaded 1.7 million intelligence files from U.S. agencies in the single largest theft of secrets in the history of the United States, according to lawmakers.
The report, they said, asserts that the breach has the potential to put military personnel at risk.
"This report confirms my greatest fears - Snowden's real acts of betrayal place America's military men and women at greater risk. Snowden's actions are likely to have lethal consequences for our troops in the field," Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.
The breach has tipped off adversaries to U.S. intelligence sources and methods and could "gravely impact" U.S. national security, the report found, according to Rogers and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., the committee's ranking member.
It concluded that much of the information taken relates to current U.S. military operations. The statement, however, does not elaborate.
Snowden downloaded the material while working at an NSA facility in Hawaii last year. If he obtained 1.7 million records, he is not thought to have released more than a small percentage to any journalist. The NSA is a Department of Defense agency.
Snowden's supporters have dismissed claims that his actions have endangered national security and have instead accused U.S. officials of exaggerating the impact.
"This is straight from the government's playbook," said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Ben Wizner, an adviser to Snowden. "Remember, the government told the Supreme Court that publication of the Pentagon Papers would cause grave damage to national security. That was not true then, and this report is not true now. Overblown claims of national security rarely stand the test of time."
News reports about NSA surveillance began appearing in June based on documents shared with journalists. The disclosures have prompted a national debate over the proper scope of NSA's intelligence-gathering activities. The debate also extended to NSA's spying on foreign leaders and on its efforts to obtain data by gaining access to U.S. companies' servers overseas.
Although much of the reporting to date has focused on NSA foreign intelligence activities and domestic surveillance, "most of the documents Snowden stole concern vital operations of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force," Rogers said.
The Washington Post reported in October that Snowden breached military intelligence files. According to officials interviewed then, he took tens of thousands of documents from the intelligence arms of each of the services, as well as from the Defense Intelligence Agency. He downloaded 30,000 from one service alone and similar amounts from each of the others, one official said.
Snowden gained access to the documents through the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, or JWICS, for top-secret/sensitive compartmented information, the officials said.
Last fall, U.S. intelligence officials began to alert foreign intelligence services that were working with the U.S. military about the potential that some of the material may come to light.