Edward Snowden: I Had More Access Than Almost Any Other Official in the Intelligence Community

The man responsible for leaking classified National Security Agency documents says he wasn’t just “some low-level employee.”

National Journal
Marina Koren
June 3, 2014, 8:20 a.m.

Al­most a year after Ed­ward Snowden re­vealed him­self as the man who blew the whistle on the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency, some people are still won­der­ing how he had ac­cess to so many clas­si­fied in­tel­li­gence doc­u­ments.

After all, Snowden was young. He was just a con­tract­or. “How did a 29-year-old have ac­cess to all those clas­si­fied doc­u­ments?” asked So­nia Brindi of the Por­tuguese tele­vi­sion net­work Globo dur­ing a lengthy new in­ter­view with Snowden in Mo­scow. (Watch it in full here). “How did you ac­cess them?”

The pub­lic’s be­wil­der­ment is mis­placed, Snowden replied. “There’s sort of been a mis­in­form­a­tion oc­cur­ring in the U.S. me­dia, that was then propag­ated by the in­ter­na­tion­al me­dia, which was that I was some low-level em­ploy­ee, I didn’t really have any un­der­stand­ing of these ma­ter­i­als,” he said. “I had func­tion­ing at a very seni­or level. I’ve writ­ten policies on be­half of the United States. I had been in meet­ings with the very top tech­nic­al of­fi­cials on the NSA and the CIA.”

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Snowden had more re­spons­ib­il­ity at the NSA than people may think, he said. “I was what’s called a sys­tems ad­min­is­trat­or or a su­per­user, which means that I had more ac­cess than al­most any oth­er of­fi­cial in the in­tel­li­gence com­munity,” he said. “Be­cause even the dir­ect­or of the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency or the Cent­ral In­tel­li­gence Agency or any of these things, when they want to see some doc­u­ments, when they want to un­der­stand some pro­gram, they have to ask someone: ‘Show me this, tell me about this, brief this for me.’ “

And that someone was Snowden. “As a sys­tems ad­min­is­trat­or, you are the per­son who can see all of that, be­cause you are the one who con­trols all of the in­form­a­tion.”

Snowden’s latest in­ter­view comes two days be­fore the one-year an­niversary of the first NSA leak, which showed that the agency col­lects phone re­cords of mil­lions of Ve­r­i­zon cus­tom­ers every day. Back then, Snowden told Globo he wanted to stay out of the spot­light. Now, things are dif­fer­ent. “I’m con­fid­ent that today, now nearly a year on from the ini­tial rev­el­a­tions, I can talk about things. I can talk about how I feel and it’s not go­ing to take away from the de­bate.”

Re­turn­ing to the U.S., however, is still not an op­tion. “I would love to face court in the U.S.,” he said — but only if re­forms are made to the Es­pi­on­age Act, the le­gis­la­tion un­der which Snowden has been charged with three felon­ies for leak­ing in­form­a­tion.

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