Top-secret documents of the National Security Agency were apparently pilfered with ease by junior-level infrastructure analyst Edward Snowden, 29, an employee of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton and a former CIA adviser.
In the richest of ironies, Snowden copied documents while on his job at the NSA Threat Operations Center in Hawaii, a facility with the mission of detecting threats to government computer systems. He turned over copies of documents to the Washington Post and the British newspaper the Guardian in one of the biggest security leaks in U.S. history.
Snowden, a high school dropout from North Carolina whose formal education consists of a GED, enlisted in the Army Special Forces training program in 2004 but broke both legs in an accident and was discharged after four months, he told the Guardian. From there, he landed a job as a security guard with NSA, moved to the CIA where, the Guardian said, “His understanding of the Internet and his talent for computer programming enabled him to rise fairly quickly for someone who lacked even a high school diploma.” And how!
Eventually he wound up with Booz Allen — and apparently unlimited access to NSA secrets.
He told the Guardian:
“Anyone in the positions of access with the technical capabilities that I had could suck out secrets, pass them on the open market to Russia. They always have an open door as we do. I had access to the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all over the world. The locations of every station, we have what their missions are and so forth.” Snowden also asserted: “You could shut down the surveillance system in an afternoon.”
If so, the NSA and other intelligence agencies have a monumental challenge in keeping their secrets secret. But, according to John Prisco — CEO of Triumfant, which works for the Pentagon and other spy agencies — there’s no technology to prevent another Snowden type breach.
“There is no product that is going to prevent that kind of a leak,” Prisco said. “If somebody decides they are going to go rogue and disclose top secret documents, that is not something technology is going to prevent.”
Insiders like Snowden now pose the greatest security threats, says Robert Bryant of the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive. In a recent warning to all intelligence personnel, he said insider threats are “the top counterintelligence challenge to our community,” the Boston Globe reported.
“Today more information can be carried out the door on removable media in a matter of minutes than the sum total of what was given to our enemies in hard copy throughout U.S. history,” Bryant said.
Edward Snowden proved that. The question is: What else does he have and who will get it?