Foreign and Defense Policy

Did Snowden have an accomplice?

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Image Credit: Shutterstock

For those who’ve worked in the intelligence community, it’s not really much of a surprise that Edward Snowden had access to so much classified material and could pass along apparently thousands of documents. This is especially true since 9/11 because of the emphasis since then not to allow “stove-pipes” (that is, narrow, vertical chains of command and access to materials) to prevent analysts and others from connecting “the dots” from wherever the sources. And it’s no real surprise that someone this young but seemingly technically savvy would have the kind of clearances necessary to access that same material. The world of the NSA, and the contractors who support it, is filled with young men and women — many of whom are or once were enlisted military personnel — who may or may not have a college degree but have shown an aptitude for some element of NSA work.

All that said, we still don’t know (at least publicly) exactly what Snowden’s job was. So questions remain about whether he should have had access to the materials he passed along to the Guardian and the Washington Post. Or is there some “hole” in the NSA’s internal IT system that allowed him to get around and get to materials he should not have been able to see, let alone download?

But what is especially curious for those with some knowledge of the system and Snowden’s place in it was his ability to pass along the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court document ordering Verizon to turn over “on an ongoing daily basis [...] all call detail records” for communications between the US and abroad and here at home. FISA documents are some of the most closely-held pieces of paper in the government — or at least they used to be when I had oversight responsibilities for intelligence activities. And one could make a similar case for the PRISM materials he passed along detailing the surveillance program that apparently gathers intelligence from Facebook, Google, et al, by non-US persons believed to be living outside the United States.

So, how did Snowden get access to these materials? The most likely and mundane answer is that he took advantage of internal lapses in security, either of a technical or personal nature. Or, less likely, but still a possibility not to be overlooked, is that he was helped by someone else — an accomplice presumably still working within the NSA and NSA contractor system.

2 thoughts on “Did Snowden have an accomplice?

  1. This is not hard to understand. Most all information now is in digital form.

    Mr. Snowden was an IT person – access to the servers that contained the digital info.

    When you say “internal lapses in security” – consider this – first the size of a micro-SD card and where you might carry it when you go into a secure facility where you have unrestricted access to the servers.

    What’s amazing to me on the other end – is what people can do to thwart the government snooping and that is easily obtained – encryption.

    so guess who is going to definitely use encryption when they are planning nefarious deeds and guess who won’t go through that trouble and thus be subject to govt snooping?

    that’s right, the clueless who have no nefarious motives will be snooped on from top to bottom by a govt that cannot near as easily do that to those who encrypt their communications.

    The whole thing not only points out the irony that average people do not understand the simple way that the leaker could do his thing but the ham-fisted govt approach that ends up with the bad guys shielding themselves effectively and the average folks who do not understand technology – not.

  2. From published reports, this guy worked for Booz Allen for three months. The Extended Background Investigation required for a TS/SI clearance takes much longer than that. No EBI, no TS/SI. Moreover, at one time, NSA required all cleared civilians to pass a polygraph.
    So, how exactly did he accomplish so much in three months?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>