Officials Wonder Why Snowden Had So Much Access, Suggest He’s Lying

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Photo: Charles Dharapak

Edward Snowden is currently the subject of at least two government inquiries, and some of investigators' top questions are how much he knew, and why he had access to such an incredible trove of data. The 29-year-old CIA veteran worked at the NSA Threat Operations Center in Hawaii for just three months, and several officials tell the Washington Post that they question Snowden's claim that he had “full access to the rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all around the world, the locations of every station we have, what their missions are and so forth.” Some went even further. “When he said he had access to every CIA station around the world, he’s lying,” said a former senior agency official. 

Officials said such information is compartmentalized, and only a few top officials should have access to it. For instance, a former NSA official said the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order that was leaked to expose the government's collection of phone metadata would have only been accessible to a handful of agency officials, “maybe 30 or maybe 40. Not large numbers.” They added that the NSA has layers of security to keep tabs on its employees and make sure they aren't performing unauthorized searches of the agencies databases.

Unless Snowden had help from someone else (a possibility that's being investigated), it seems his leaks prove that security wasn't as tight as many in the agency believed it to be. Apparently many of these officials haven't considered the threat posed by the IT guy, even though Snowden suggested in his video interview that his position made him privy to more information than the average worker. He explained:

When you're in positions of privileged access like a systems administrator for these sort of intelligence community agencies, you're exposed to a lot more information on a broader scale than the average employee. And because of that you see things that may be disturbing, but over the course of a normal person's career you'd only see one or two of these instances. When you see everything you see them on a more frequent basis and you recognize that some of these things are actually abuses.

Regardless of how Snowden obtained the documents, the question of who has access to the vast amount of classified data collected by the government can be added to the list of troubling privacy and surveillance issues highlighted by his bombshell revelations. In a separate story, the Post reports that in the rush to hire intelligence workers to manage these vast computer networks post-9/11, jobs were outsourced to private companies, and many employees weren't properly vetted. Back in 2009, Glenn Voelz, an Army intelligence officer previously assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned in an essay that “the rapid and largely unplanned integration of many nongovernmental employees into the workforce presents new liabilities that have been largely ignored to this point” — and it doesn't seem anything has changed since then.