A confusing truth is becoming increasingly clear: The government had multiple chances to stop Edward Snowden before he leaked a trove of NSA documents earlier this year. But they didn’t. We’ve heard about the warning signs before, but the latest revelation is a real whopper.
The New York Times reports that Snowden got booted from his technician job at the CIA back in 2009 after his supervisor suspected he was trying to break into classified documents. Upon Snowden’s departure, the CIA supervisor appended a report explaining as much and also noting some changes in behaviour to Snowden’s personnel file. This is around the same time that Snowden was spending a lot of time commenting on security issues and complaining about civil surveillance. (Ironically, Snowden, or someone using Snowden’s screen name, also wrote that leakers “should be shot.”)
That personnel file seems to have been lost in the shuffle, however, when Snowden moved from the CIA to his NSA contractor job. Despite the concerns of his CIA supervisor, Snowden kept his top secret security clearance, and by early 2012, when he was still working as an NSA contractor for Dell Computer, Snowden reportedly started stealing classified documents. Of the report that could’ve given the NSA a heads up about a potentially dangerous employee, one veteran law enforcement official told the Times, very plainly, “It slipped through the cracks.”
But these things happen, don’t they? No bureaucracy works perfectly, and there’s a lot of information in the intelligence community’s personnel file. Furthermore, the system that tracks security clearances for CIA and NSA employees tends to look for “major rule based infractions, not less serious complaints about personal behaviour” says the Times. Without seeing the report, it’s hard to tell how direct the supervisor was about the whole trying to break into classified documents bit, though, so maybe it just looked like a personality conflict.
No matter what the government did wrong, another very apparent truth is also reinforced by these new details about the 29 year old leaker: Edward Snowden was determined. In June he said, “Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped.” Certainly not by the bumbling government. [NYT]