How Snowden Hoodwinked the Government

He got by with a little help from some friends.

National Journal
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
Feb. 13, 2014, 5:35 a.m.

We fi­nally know how Ed­ward Snowden pulled off one of the greatest thefts of clas­si­fied doc­u­ments in gov­ern­ment his­tory. And he had some help.

The former Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency con­tract­or was aided by three agency “af­fil­i­ates” in ac­cess­ing and down­load­ing what have come to be known as the Snowden files, ac­cord­ing to a Feb. 10 agency memo first re­por­ted on by NBC News’ Mi­chael Isikoff.

One of the af­fil­i­ates, de­scribed as a ci­vil­ian NSA em­ploy­ee, al­lowed Snowden to use his per­son­al pass­words to ac­cess clas­si­fied in­form­a­tion on a serv­er called NSANet. This em­ploy­ee first told the FBI on June 18—just two weeks after the leaks began—that he let Snowden use his log-in in­form­a­tion and that he knew those cre­den­tials had been denied to the fu­git­ive, who is cur­rently liv­ing in Rus­sia after be­ing gran­ted asylum there last year.

Snowden was then able to cap­ture the em­ploy­ee’s pass­word, which gran­ted him “even great­er ac­cess to clas­si­fied in­form­a­tion.” But the em­ploy­ee “was not aware that Snowden in­ten­ded to un­law­fully dis­close” any of the doc­u­ments, which have been re­vealed in ma­jor pub­lic­a­tions around the world and have ex­posed sweep­ing phone and In­ter­net data col­lec­tion tech­niques em­ployed by the NSA and oth­er coun­tries.

Last month, Snowden par­ti­cip­ated in an on­line chat and was asked wheth­er he stole pass­word in­form­a­tion from any of his col­leagues. Snowden shot back that “I nev­er stole any pass­words, nor did I trick an army of cowork­ers.” He also re­futed a Novem­ber Re­u­ters re­port that said he used the cre­den­tials “un­wit­tingly” provided by his col­leagues when he worked for con­tract­or Booz Al­len Hamilton in Hawaii.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the oth­er two “af­fil­i­ates,” de­scribed as a mem­ber of the mil­it­ary and an­oth­er NSA con­tract­or, were barred from ac­cess­ing agency in­form­a­tion be­gin­ning in Au­gust 2013, ac­cord­ing to the memo writ­ten by Eth­an Bau­man, NSA’s dir­ect­or of le­gis­lat­ive af­fairs. But “fur­ther ac­count­ab­il­ity will be de­term­ined by their in­di­vidu­al em­ploy­er, not the NSA.”

Earli­er this week, James Clap­per, dir­ect­or of na­tion­al in­tel­li­gence, test­i­fied be­fore the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee that Snowden had taken ad­vant­age of a “per­fect storm” of se­cur­ity vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies and that he “was pretty skilled at stay­ing be­low the radar, so what he was do­ing wasn’t vis­ible.”

“Our whole sys­tem is based on per­son­al trust,” an ex­as­per­ated Clap­per said, adding that there were no “mousetraps” in place to guar­an­tee there wouldn’t be an­oth­er Ed­ward Snowden.

The NSA has en­acted tight­er re­stric­tions on when and how agents can ac­cess clas­si­fied doc­u­ments since Snowden’s heist, in­clud­ing a “two-man rule” re­quir­ing two ad­min­is­trat­ors to work jointly when deal­ing with cer­tain files.

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