Leaks in August about plans al-Qaida leaders were supposedly making to attack American interests abroad have "caused more immediate damage to American counterterrorism efforts than the thousands of classified documents disclosed by Edward Snowden," some "government analysts and senior officials" tell The New York Times.
Those officials, according to the Times, say that since the August leaks there has been "a sharp drop in the terrorists' use of a major communications channel that the authorities were monitoring." The Times adds that:
" 'The switches weren't turned off, but there has been a real decrease in quality' of communications, said one United States official, who like others quoted spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence programs."
Reports about what al-Qaida operatives were said to be planning surfaced in early August in stories by McClatchy Newspapers, the Times and The Daily Beast.
As we wrote at the time, among those stories was the Daily Beast's somewhat confusing initial report that U.S. intelligence had learned about al-Qaida's plans from "a call" involving 20 al-Qaida operatives. The Daily Beast subsequently said it didn't intend to imply that the intelligence was gleaned from a telephone conference call, though that was the impression many readers came away with.
When U.S. officials issued travel warnings and closed diplomatic posts in countries across the Middle East and Africa in early August, officials told NPR and other news outlets that there had been communications picked up between Ayman al-Zawahri — al-Qaida's leader since Osama bin Laden's death in May 2011 — and Nasir al-Wuhayshi of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
Now, writes the Times, "the sharpest decline in messaging has been among the Qaeda operatives in Yemen, officials said. The disclosures from Mr. Snowden have not had such specificity about terrorist communications networks that the government is monitoring, they said."
Snowden's revelations, reportedly most prominently by The Guardian and The Washington Post, have exposed the extensive efforts of the National Security Agency to gather data on phone calls and other types of electronic communications.
"The Snowden stuff is layered and layered, and it will take a lot of time to understand it," a "senior American official tells the Times. So, "there wasn't a sudden drop-off from it. A lot of these guys [suspected terrorists] think that they are not impacted by it, and it is difficult stuff for them to understand."