Dempsey Talks Snowden, Syria and Sex Assaults

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he wouldn't be surprised if the Russians or the Chinese already obtained information from Edward Snowden on classified surveillance programs.

The U.S. military’s top officer said Russia may have already obtained classified information about American surveillance programs, Syrian troops are “gaining momentum” against rebel forces and the brass is open to ways to curb sexual assault.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in an interview yesterday with ABC’s “This Week,” said the decision by former government contractor Edward Snowden to leak information about National Security Agency programs was “disappointing” and “damaging.”

“He has caused us some considerable damage to our intelligence architecture,” he said on the television show. “Our adversaries are changing the way that they communicate.”

Dempsey, who last week was confirmed by the Senate to another two-year term, said he didn’t know how much classified intelligence Snowden had in his possession, only that it was a “significant” amount.

“No, it wouldn’t surprise me,” he said, when asked if the Russians or the Chinese may have already obtained the material from Snowden.

Dempsey also took issue with the self-professed goals of the former contractor for the National Security Agency.

“Snowden is not a guy who’s doing these things for honorable or noble purposes,” he said. “He’s not doing this to make some kind of statement or a debate.”

After allegedly providing information about the programs to The Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers, Snowden initially fled to Hong Kong, then to Russia. Last week, he was allowed to leave a Moscow airport, where he was holed up for weeks, after receiving temporary asylum in the country.

On Syria, Dempsey declined to say whether the regime of President Bashar al-Assad was winning in the country’s civil war after military troops ousted rebel forces from an area they previously held outside Damascus.

“This kind of conflict, an internal civil war insurgency, always ebbs and flows,” he said. “He appears to be gaining momentum, but I don’t think it will be sustainable.”

More than 100,000 people have died in the two-year-old uprising against the regime of al-Assad, according to a June estimate from the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the death toll through a network of activists in the country.

When asked what happens next, Dempsey said that’s “the source of continuing discussions of our strategy and whether we should become directly involved or become involved through support to the opposition, building partners in the region, humanitarian relief.”

Dempsey recently sparred with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., over what role the U.S. should play in Syria. McCain, who supports a U.S.-led military intervention and enforcement of a no-fly zone in the country, accused the general of flip-flopping on whether to arm the opposition.

Dempsey said the recent war in Iraq, where he commanded U.S. forces, has factored into his thinking on Syria.

“It has branded in me the idea that the use of military power must be part of an overall strategic solution that includes international partners and a whole of government and that simply an application of forces rarely produces and in fact maybe never produces the outcome that we see,” he said.

When asked why the brass opposes legislation introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand D-N.Y., to remove the chain of command from the prosecution of sexual assaults, Dempsey said, “A victim doesn’t have to go to the commander. There are at least nine other places where a victim can go.”

The Defense Department is also considering wider adoption of an Air Force program that provides special counsel to victims of sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact, Dempsey said.

“We’re looking at every possible way and open-minded to every single option,” he said.

An estimated 26,000 active-duty troops had unwanted sexual contact in fiscal 2012, up from about 19,300 in 2010, according to a report the Pentagon released May 7. By comparison, 3,374 troops reported sexual assaults last year, an increase of 5.7 percent from the previous year, according to the report.

Advocates say the discrepancy in the figures shows the degree to which victims are reluctant to come forward.

On Egypt, Dempsey declined to say whether Secretary of State John Kerry misspoke recently when he said Egypt’s military was “restoring democracy” when it removed the country’s first democratically elected leader, Mohamed Morsi, on July 3 after mass protests against his rule.

“I’m not going to speak for the secretary of state,” he said. “He’s the leading diplomat of our nation.”

Dempsey ended the interview with a joke, saying he was recently tasked with babysitting after the birth of his eighth grandchild.

“My job was to babysit the newest grandson’s two-year-old twin brothers, which actually was probably the most difficult thing I’ve done since I’ve been chairman,” he quipped.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.