Edward Snowden Tricked NSA Coworkers Into Giving Him Their Passwords

By Adam Clark Estes on at

New details are emerging about how Edward Snowden gained access to the classified NSA documents he would later leak to the press, and boy are they curious.

Reuters dropped a scoop late Thursday night that shows how shockingly low tech (read: no tech) methods enabled Snowden to gather up classified documents. Check this out: "Snowden may have persuaded between 20 and 25 fellow workers at the NSA regional operations centre in Hawaii to give him their logins and passwords by telling them they were needed for him to do his job as a computer systems administrator, a second source said." The report notes that these coworkers were later relieved of their duties, though it's unclear if they were reassigned or fired.

So let's get this straight. A sort of pale-faced twenty-something contractor—not an NSA employee—waltzes into the Hawaii operations centre asking people for their passwords, passwords that unlocked the country's deepest darkest secrets, and the NSA analysts just said yes? And not one or two of them—20 to 25! While giving up your password to a sysadmin is not unheard of, it's perplexing how Snowden ended up in such a position of power. Bear in mind that this happened after the CIA had let Snowden go for trying to break into classified documents and even written a warning note of sorts in his file, a note that the NSA apparently never saw.

Oh brother.

So Snowden sort of went rogue, but good God, the NSA is a leaky ship. This latest revelation serves as further proof that Snowden didn't just stumble across the documents he later leaked but rather actively sought them out. In fact, Snowden himself said back in June that he took the contract at Booz Allen Hamilton specifically because it "granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked." And evidently NSA employees unwittingly granted him access to everything else.

Now's the time when the "What if Snowden were a terrorist?" narratives start seeming a little more frightening. Because yeah, if an unknown sysadmin with a dodgy track record can trick two dozen NSA employees into giving up the keys to the castle, what else is possible? [Reuters]