Snowden tricked NSA – and they don’t know how he did it

 Published time: August 24, 2013 17:48                                                                            

View of the National Security Agency (NSA) in the Washington suburb of Fort Meade, Maryland (AFP Photo)View of the National Security Agency (NSA) in the Washington suburb of Fort Meade, Maryland (AFP Photo)

While collecting data Edward Snowden was able to evade all safeguards at the NSA, leaving the agency puzzled at how he did it, according to new report. Officials worry that the ease with which he covered his tracks means another breach could happen.

Information logs exist to tell the government who tried to view  or copy classified information without the proper clearance, but  Snowden appears to have bypassed or deleted them, while working  as a system administrator with contractor Booz Allen Hamilton in  Hawaii. The revelations come from government officials speaking  to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, as they were  prevented from publicly disclosing new information about the  Snowden case.

This is a worrying development for the Obama administration,  which has been at pains to prove to the American public that the  NSA’s computer system cannot be taken advantage of so easily.  Therefore, if Snowden could single-handedly circumvent its cyber  defenses, the question stands as to whom else can gain instant  access to the vast stream of data the clandestine organization  intercepts every day.

NSA Director Keith Alexander could not tell the press in July  what exactly Snowden might have had access to, downloaded or  taken with him, citing an ongoing investigation. This was nearly  two months after the leaks took place.

National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander (Reuters / Doug Kapustin)National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander (Reuters / Doug Kapustin)


When Snowden had the job of system administrator, he possessed  enough security privileges to access data remotely, browse it  freely, as well as take it off its home servers and copy it onto  portable drives. According to Alexander, this is how the  information was leaked.
NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines then told the AP that Alexander   “had a sense of what documents and information had been  taken,” but “he did not say the comprehensive  investigation had been completed.” She did not say if Snowden  was capable of viewing or downloading the documents without the  organization’s knowledge.

A key reason behind Snowden’s success may have been that the data  was not very clearly compartmentalized, meaning that specialists  in one area could easily browse information they would never  plausibly need, provided they had the right security clearance.

It is not even clear whether Snowden had to use any ‘hacking’  skills to collect that data, or if he simply misapplied the  powers legally allocated to him.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole defended the government’s  spying activities in Congress in July, saying that employees who  have access to NSA’s programs are effectively monitored by the  government.

“Everything that is done under [the program] is documented and  reviewed before the decision is made and reviewed again after  these decisions are made to make sure that nobody has done the  things that you’re concerned about happening.”


Reuters / Pawel KopczynskiReuters / Pawel Kopczynski


One of his most crucial leaks was the truth about the US  government’s use of a program that hoarded metadata of  communications between American citizens and intercepted all  incoming and outgoing internet traffic in the country, before  redirecting it straight to the NSA servers.
Officials say that despite leaking information for months without  getting caught, it may be possible that Snowden did not know how  exactly the surveillance programs themselves functioned.

Snowden has since traversed the globe in pursuit of political  asylum, and succeeded with Russia. Washington has been highly  critical of Moscow’s actions and as a gesture of disapproval,  even gone as far as cancel an unrelated meeting between President  Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

The NSA is now reportedly “overwhelmed” with trying to  figure out what data and how much of it Snowden managed to steal,  said NBC News on Thursday.

This news, together with the case of Bradley Manning, who between  2009 and 2010 leaked hundreds of thousands of highly classified  documents, has forced the US government to consider the issue of  internal threats to its national security. The 2013 Intelligence  Authorization Act now includes a proposal by Congress to create  an automated computer program for the detection of such insider  threats.


Categories: Intelligence Gathering, M.I.C.E.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

2 replies


  1. The National Security Agency, Snowden and the US Constitution — State of Globe
%d bloggers like this: