In a stunning development, Deputy Director of the NSA, John Inglis, along with Assistant Attorney General, James Cole, have fled the United States after their participation in a contentious congressional meeting on Capitol Hill.
In that meeting, both Inglis and Cole revealed that the depth of NSA spying far surpassed anything that whistleblower Edward Snowden has made public to date. The unauthorized leaks to Congress by Inglis and Cole, which exposed more about NSA spying than anything Snowden has revealed, shook congressional leaders to their core.
The National Security Agency revealed to an angry congressional panel on Wednesday that its analysis of phone records and online behavior goes exponentially beyond what it had previously disclosed.
John C Inglis, the deputy director of the surveillance agency, told a member of the House judiciary committee that NSA analysts can perform "a second or third hop query" through its collections of telephone data and internet records in order to find connections to terrorist organizations.
"Hops" refers to a technical term indicating connections between people. A three-hop query means that the NSA can look at data not only from a suspected terrorist, but from everyone that suspect communicated with, and then from everyone those people communicated with, and then from everyone all of those people communicated with.
The Obama administration, blindsided by the leaks, immediately announced that the two would be charged under The Espionage Act, and declared them enemies of the state.
Eric Holder, in a hastily convened press conference, admitted that the two had fled the United States on private jets immediately after the hearing, and that their whereabouts where unknown. He was, however, confident that the U.S. would bring them to justice.
“The national security of the United States has been damaged by those leaks. The safety of the American people and safety of people in allied nations is at risk."
“I am confident that the people who are responsible will be held accountable.”
Rumors are that the two senior intelligence officials have fled to Venezuela, where like Snowden, it is anticipated they will seek asylum. However, much speculation is swirling at this stage regarding their location and fate.
While President Obama, in a short session before reporters, said, "We won't be scrambling any jets to catch these middle-aged leakers," diplomatic channels were already furiously at work, trying to close off all international airspace.
Updates on this story as details emerge will appear below the break.
11:01 pm - It has been confirmed by multiple sources that Inglis and Cole have fled to Hong Kong.
Despite this revelation, mainstream media is fawning over news that Cole's wife was once a hand model for Palmolive.
10:24 pm - CNN is reporting, per an anonymous government source, that Inglis and Cole intentionally took their respective posts at the NSA and DOJ in order to leak surveillance information to Congress.
"They engaged in a decades-long, career-building venture just for today's leak," the source said.
9:57 pm - MSNBC pundit Melissa Harris-Perry has called for Inglis and Cole to return to the States and face the consequences of their actions, apparently already tired of talking about the two whistleblowers.
"So come on home, John and James, so we could talk about, you know, something else," Harris-Perry said.
9:42 pm - As the world searches for two of the nation's top intelligence officials, President Obama referred to them as "hackers" in a brief media appearance, attempting to recast the Deputy Director of the NSA and Assistant Attorney General as basement-dwelling, Ramen-noodle-eating cyber thieves who were never employed by the U.S. government or affiliated contractors.
9:16 pm - David Gregory has asked this evening whether congressional leaders, who asked the questions that led to Inglis and Cole's whistle-blowing, should be arrested.
"It was just a question," Gregory Tweeted after coming under fire for suggesting U.S. legislators be jailed for doing their jobs. "I was just echoing what others were wondering."
9:03 pm - After rumours began swirling that Inglis and Cole were aboard a plane with the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, several European nations closed off their airspace and forced Nazarbayev's twin-engine aircraft to land in a field in Lithuania.
"We have not been this humiliated since that Jew Borat's movie!" screamed Nazarbayev after Lithuanian officials announced Inglis and Cole were not aboard the president's plane.
8:42 pm - Wikileaks has Tweeted that it has been in touch with Inglis and Cole, though refused to reveal their location or whether or not the organization is helping the two asylum seekers.
8:24 pm - A furious Venezuela has denied that intelligence officials are in the country. "The airspace around Latin America is closed. Nobody can get in or out!"