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Story highlights

James Clapper: The leaks would have been tolerable if related only to civil liberties and privacy concerns

Clapper says Edward Snowden's leaks compromised a critical program in Afghanistan; it was shut down

(CNN) —  

The top U.S. intelligence official said Wednesday that Edward Snowden’s leaks of secret government surveillance programs “forced some needed transparency.”

The comment by James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, was a stark contrast to the heavy condemnation top U.S. officials have levied on the former National Security Agency contractor until now.

Clapper, however, also strongly criticized Snowden’s leaks and the “huge damage to our collection capabilities” that he inflicted.

Clapper explained that he perhaps could have “tolerated” Snowden’s disclosures if they had related only to civil liberties and privacy concerns.

Snowden’s leaks “forced some needed transparency,” Clapper said, “but he exposed so many other things that had nothing to do with so-called domestic surveillance or civil liberties and privacy in this country.”

He pointed in particular to the closure of a critical program in Afghanistan written about by journalist Glenn Greenwald.

“The day after [Greenwald] wrote about it, the program was shut down by the government of Afghanistan, which was the single most important source of force protection and warning for our people in Afghanistan,” Clapper said.

Snowden, who is wanted by U.S. authorities and has taken refuge in Russia, leaked details of programs run by the NSA more than two years ago. Clapper said the intelligence community is still dealing with the “untold damage” that followed the revelations.

“Terrorists particularly have gone to school on the revelations caused by Snowden,” Clapper said.