NSA just forgot to do that. No compartmentalization of secret data. Just a clear open shot all the way to the top for an internal analyst who wanted to take tens of thousands of files. Or a million files. Snowden waltzed into work, and was given free access to everything and grabbed it.
But if Snowden is telling the truth now, in his latest statement, the likelihood of his data grab shrinks even further.
Because according to Snowden, he raised concerns about illegal NSA spying to his own supervisors and executives more than 10 times, before he walked away from his job with all those files.
Snowden painted a target on his chest with his complaints about illegal spying. But no red flags were raised at the NSA. Nobody put Snowden under close inspection.
Nobody said, "Hey, this kid is trouble. Big trouble. He's working for us and he's objecting to our programs, policies and secret operations. We have to track every move this kid makes. We have to spy on every inch of his life, at work and at home."
Nobody did that.
Checking news stories about Snowden's work history at NSA, the longest period he was alleged to be there was four years. Which means Snowden was filing roughly three claims of illegal spying per year with his bosses. Could he be more obvious? And yet no one at NSA thought he was a risk. No one put a heavy watch on his activities and caught him with his hand in the cookie jar.
And finally, when Snowden told his superiors he was leaving his job to seek medical treatment, no one interceded. No one reacted with suspicion.
Snowden, working at NSA, became familiar enough with the Agency's complex architecture to steal anywhere from 20,000 to 1.2 million files, also lodged over 10 complaints about illegal NSA spying, and walked away into the night without so much as a peep from the biggest spying apparatus in the world.
If you believe that, I've got beachfront condos for sale on Jupiter.
For background, here is an excerpt from a piece I wrote last July about Snowden, the NSA, and the inconsistencies in the official story:
Let's begin here: If you absolutely must have a hero, watch Superman movies.
If your need for a hero is so great, so cloying, so heavy, so juicy that it swamps your curiosity, don't read this.
If you can't separate the value of Snowden's revelations from the question of who he is, if you can't entertain the notion that covert ops and intelligence-agency games are reeking with cover stories, false trails, and limited hangouts, you need more fun in your life.
Okay. Let's look at Snowden's brief history as reported by The Guardian. Are there any holes?
Is the Pope Catholic?
In 2003, at age 19, without a high school diploma, Snowden enlists in the Army. He begins a training program to join the Special Forces. At what point after enlistment can a new soldier start this elite training program?
Snowden breaks both legs in an exercise. He's discharged from the Army. Is that automatic? How about healing and then resuming service?
If he was accepted in the Special Forces training program because he had special computer skills, then why discharge him simply because he broke both legs?
"Sorry, Ed, but with two broken legs we just don't think you can hack into terrorist data anymore. You were good, but not now. Try Walmart. They always have openings."
Snowden shifts jobs. Boom. He's now in the CIA, in IT. He has no high school diploma.
In 2007, Snowden is sent to Geneva. He's only 23 years old. The CIA gives him diplomatic cover there. He's put in charge of maintaining computer-network security. Major job. Obviously, he has access to a wide range of classified documents. Sound a little odd? He's just a kid. Maybe he has his GED. Otherwise, he still doesn't have a high school diploma.
Was Snowden being groomed for an operation that was to come? Was he, knowingly or unknowingly, being set up to do something big?
Snowden says that during this period, in Geneva, one of the incidents that really sours him on the CIA is the "turning of a Swiss banker." One night, CIA guys get a banker drunk, encourage him to drive home, the banker gets busted, the CIA guys help him out, and then with that bond formed, they eventually get the banker to reveal deep secrets to the Agency.
This sours Snowden? He's that naive? He doesn't know by now that the CIA does this sort of thing all the time? He's shocked? He didn't sign up for this? Come on.
In 2009, Snowden leaves the CIA. Why? Presumably because he's disillusioned. Or did he actually stay on with the CIA as a covert operative?
It should noted here that Snowden claimed he could do very heavy damage to the entire US intelligence community in 2008, but decided to wait because he thought Obama, just coming into the presidency, might keep his "transparency" promise.
After two years with the CIA in Geneva, Snowden really had the capability to take down the whole US inter-agency intelligence network, or a major chunk of it? Or did he have an inflated sense of self-importance -- in which case, he would have made a good target for a later mission "to shake up the whole world."
In 2009, Snowden leaves the CIA and goes to work in the private sector. Dell, Booze Allen Hamilton. In this latter job, Snowden is assigned to work at the NSA.
He's an outsider, but, again, he claims to have so much access to so much sensitive NSA data that he can take down the whole US intelligence network in a single day. The. Whole. US. Intelligence. Network.
This is Ed Snowden's sketchy legend. It's all red flags, alarm bells, sirens, flashing lights.
Let's see. We have a new guy coming to work for us here at NSA today? Oh, a whiz kid. Ed Snowden. Outside contractor. Booz Allen. He's not really a full-time employee of the NSA. Twenty-nine years old. No high school diploma. Has a GED. He worked for the CIA and quit. Hmm. Why did he quit? Oh, never mind, who cares? No problem.
"Tell you what. Let's give this kid access to our most sensitive data. Sure. Why not? Everything. That stuff we keep behind 986 walls? Where you have to pledge the life of your first-born against the possibility you'll go rogue? Let Snowden see it all. Sure. What the hell. I'm feeling charitable. He seems like a nice kid."
Here is a more likely scenario.
Snowden never took any of those thousands of documents on an NSA computer. Never happened. He didn't hack in. He didn't steal anything.
He was working an op, either as a dupe or knowingly. He was working for -- well, let's see, who would that be?
Who was he working for before he entered the private sector and wound up at NSA?
Would that be the same CIA who hates the NSA with a venomous fervor?
Would that be the same CIA who's been engaged in a turf war with NSA for decades?
The same CIA who's watched their own prestige and funding diminish, as human intelligence has given way to electronic snooping?
Yes, it would be. CIA just can't match the NSA when it comes to gathering signals-intell.
Wired Magazine, June 2013 issue. James Bamford, author of three books on the NSA, states:
"In April, as part of its 2014 budget request, the Pentagon [which rules the NSA] asked Congress for $4.7 billion for increased 'cyberspace operations,' nearly $1 billion more than the 2013 allocation. At the same time, budgets for the CIA and other intelligence agencies were cut by almost the same amount, $4.4 billion. A portion of the money going to [NSA] will be used to create 13 cyberattack teams."
That means spying money. Far more for NSA, far less for CIA.
People at the CIA, who were planning this operation for quite some time, were able to access those NSA documents, and they gave the documents to Snowden and he ran with them.
The CIA, of course, couldn't be seen as the NSA leaker. They needed a guy. They needed a guy who could appear to be from the NSA, to make things look worse for the NSA and shield the CIA.
They had Ed Snowden. He had worked for the CIA in Geneva, in a high-level position, overseeing computer-systems security.
Somewhere in his CIA past, Ed meets a fellow CIA guy who sits down with him and says, "You know, Ed, things have gone too damn far. The NSA is spying on everybody all the time. I can show you proof. They've gone beyond the point of trying to catch terrorists. They're doing something else. They're expanding a Surveillance State, which can only lead to one thing: the destruction of America, what America stands for, what you and I know America is supposed to be. The NSA isn't like us, Ed. We go after terrorists for real. That's it. Whereas NSA goes after everybody. We have to stop it. We need a guy -- and there are those of us who think you might be that guy"
During the course of this one disingenuous conversation, the CIA is killing 37 innocent civilians all over the world with drones, but that's beside the point. Ahem.
Ed says, "Tell me more. I'm intrigued."
He eventually buys in.
Put two scenarios on the truth scale and assess them. Which is more likely? The tale Snowden told to Glenn Greenwald, with all its holes, with its super-naive implications about the fumbling, bumbling NSA, or a scenario in which Snowden is the CIA's boy?
And if Snowden is still working for the CIA, he and his buds aren't the only people who want to take the NSA down a notch. No. Because, for example, NSA has been spying on everybody inside the Beltway.
Spying on politicians with secrets.
So imagine this conversation taking place, in a car, on a lonely road outside Washington, late at night. The speakers are Congressman X and a private operative representing the NSA:
Well, Congressman, do you remember January 6th? A Monday afternoon, a men's room in the park off
"What the hell are you talking about!"
"A stall in the menï¿½s room. The kid. He was wearing white high-tops. A Skins cap. T-shirt. Dark hair. Scar across his left cheek. Blue tattoo on his right thigh."
"We have very good audio and video. Anytime you want to watch it, let me know."
"What do you want?"
"Right now, Congressman? We want you to come down hard on Snowden. Press it. He's a traitor. He should tried and convicted."
The Congressmen pulls himself together:
"Yeah, well, of course I'll pound on Snowden publicly and call him a traitor. Sure. But I have to tell you, I know a dozen Washington players who;d like the NSA to take a hit. They're pissed off. They don't like to be spied on."
If you're a Congressman or a Senator, and you have nasty little secrets, and you know NSA is spying on you, because it's spying on everyone in the Congress, who's your potential best friend?
Somebody who can go up against the NSA, somebody who wants to go up against the NSA.
And who might that be?
It's not perfect, but it's the best you can do.
You get down on your knees and pray that Ed Snowden is still working for the CIA.
Who else, besides the CIA and numerous politicians inside the Beltway, would be aching to take the NSA down a notch? Who else would be rooting hard for this former (?) CIA employee, Snowden, to succeed?
How about certain players on Wall Street?
Still waiting to be uncovered? NSA spying to collect elite financial data, spying on the people who have that data: the major investment banks. NSA scooping up that data to predict, manipulate, and profit from trading markets all over the world.
A trillion-dollar operation.
Snowden worked for Booz Allen, which is owned by the Carlyle Group ($170 billion in assets). Carlyle, the infamous. Their money is making money in 160 investment funds.
A few of Carlyle's famous front men in its history: George HW Bush, James Baker (US Secretary of State), Frank Carlucci (US Secretary of Defense and CIA Deputy Director), John Major (British Prime Minister), Arthur Levitt (Chairman of the SEC).
Suppose you're one of the princes in the NSA castle, and Ed Snowden has just gone public with your documents. You're saying, "Let's see, this kid worked for Booz Allen, which is owned by the Carlyle Group. We (NSA) have been spying over Carlyle's shoulder, stealing their proprietary financial data. What are the chances they're getting a little revenge on us now?"
So there is the CIA, Congress, and Wall Street players, all of whom would like, privately, to get the NSA off their backs.
Snowden's true CIA bosses know how to access NSA files. They do it, and they give those files to their secret front man, Snowden.
Perhaps we could be talking about a small number of genuine patriots within the CIA who want to take down the NSA a few notches, for laudable reasons.
But if you don't like this CIA-Snowden scenario, feel free to assume the NSA is such a competent and brilliant organization when it comes to spying on the global population... but they just can't get it together to stop one man from logging in and stealing their own farm and strolling away.
They can't stop one man, who now says he filed over 10 official complaints about illegal spying while he was working at their Agency.
Is Edward Snowden Lying?