The nation's spy chief called on former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden to return a massive trove of classified documents Wednesday during a congressional hearing on security threats that was dominated by heated exchanges over that security breach and the surveillance programs subsequently exposed.
Speaking before a Senate panel, James R. Clapper Jr. outlined an array of dangers to American interests, including a rise in cyber threats and the emergence of Syria as a magnet for Islamist militants linked to al-Qaida.
But after skimming through those developments, Clapper focused his opening remarks on Snowden, delivering a blistering stream of criticism in which he described the former contractor for the National Security Agency as a hypocrite who has severely undermined U.S. security.
Clapper said the documents exposed by Snowden have bolstered adversaries, caused allies to curtail cooperation with the United States, enabled terrorist groups to alter the ways they communicate, and put lives of U.S. intelligence operatives at risk.
"Snowden claims that he has won and that his mission is accomplished," Clapper said. "If that is so, I call on him and his accomplices to facilitate the return of the remaining stolen documents that have not yet been exposed to prevent even more damage to U.S. security."
There were a number of sharply worded exchanges during the annual hearing on worldwide threats.
At one point, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) decried what he described as a "culture of misinformation" among U.S. intelligence officials that had been exposed by Snowden.
Trust in those agencies "has been seriously undermined by senior officials' reckless reliance on secret interpretations of the law and battered by years of misleading and deceptive statements," Wyden said.
Among his most pointed examples was Clapper's testimony before the same committee last year that U.S. spy agencies did not gather data on millions of Americans. Months later, Snowden's disclosures showed that the NSA had secretly compiled a database containing the phone records of nearly every American.