How Snowden Hoodwinked the Government

He got by with a little help from some friends.

National Journal
Dustin Volz
Add to Briefcase
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.

What We're Following See More »
Republican Polling Shows Close Race
Roundup: National Polling Remains Inconsistent
8 hours ago

The national polls, once again, tell very different stories: Clinton leads by just one point in the IBD, Rasmussen, and LA Times tracking polls, while she shows a commanding 12 point lead in the ABC news poll and a smaller but sizable five point lead in the CNN poll. The Republican Remington Research Group released a slew of polls showing Trump up in Ohio, Nevada, and North Carolina, a tie in Florida, and Clinton leads in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Virginia. However, an independent Siena poll shows Clinton up 7 in North Carolina, while a Monmouth poll shows Trump up one in Arizona

Colin Powell to Vote for Clinton
10 hours ago
Clinton Reaching Out to GOP Senators
16 hours ago

If you need a marker for how confident Hillary Clinton is at this point of the race, here's one: CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports "she's been talking to Republican senators, old allies and new, saying that she is willing to work with them and govern."

Trump Admits He’s Behind
16 hours ago
Ron Klain in Line to Be Clinton’s Chief of Staff?
16 hours ago

Sources tell CNN that longtime Democratic operative Ron Klain, who has been Vice President Biden's chief of staff, is "high on the list of prospects" to be chief of staff in a Clinton White House. "John Podesta, the campaign chairman, has signaled his interest in joining the Cabinet, perhaps as Energy secretary."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.