While much of the speculation surrounding NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's actions has focused on his flight from the U.S. and his asylum bid in Russia, we're also learning a bit more today about how (or rather, when) he collected the leaked documents in the first place. Reuters, citing anonymous U.S. officials, reports that Snowden began accessing the documents back in April of 2012, earlier than previously confirmed. At the time, he was working for Dell.
But Snowden's time at Dell was, for all intents and purposes, much like his time at Booz Allen Hamilton, the company that's taken much of the reputational flack for being the institution that employed the leaker. At Dell, Snowden worked as a contractor for the NSA, too, presumably for Dell-owned Perot Systems. The Atlantic Wire's Philip Bump has pointed out that Snowden probably took documents from the NSA before his time at Booz Allen, despite the prevailing narrative that the contractor took a job with the company specifically to steal secrets. For one thing, Snowden's time with Dell coincides with his increasing dissatisfaction with the state of the U.S. security and surveillance industry. Reuters has some details on what he reportedly took early on:
Snowden downloaded information while employed by Dell about eavesdropping programs run by the NSA and Britain's Government Communications Headquarters, and left an electronic footprint indicating when he accessed the documents, said the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.
David Frink, a spokesman for Round Rock, Texas-based Dell, declined to comment on any aspect of Snowden's employment with the company, saying Dell's "customer" - presumably the NSA - had asked Dell not to talk publicly about him.
The fact that Snowden collected documents before his few months at Booz Allen shouldn't be surprising — he's had access to it for years. Before starting work as an NSA contractor in 2009, Snowden worked for the CIA. So why, then, did Snowden seemingly admit to taking the Booz Allen job specifically to take the files? “My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked,” he said in June. As the Atlantic Wire has previously speculated, it's possible that his most recent contracting position provided him with documents he wanted that he, for one reason or another, couldn't get from Dell.