Investigators have figured out that Edward Snowden took classified documents from the National Security Agency with a thumb drive — which means they "know how many documents he downloaded and what server he took them from," an official told the Los Angeles Times' Ken Dilanian. But they still don't know how Snowden got the secret court order compelling Verizon to give three months of metadata on all phone calls. On MSNBC last night, Glenn Greenwald said Snowden spent months figuring out which documents were most important for the American public to know, and which ones he could leak without hurting people. It's likely he also spent some time thinking about how to keep investigators at bay while he fled to Hong Kong and talked to journalists.
The phone log database wasn't used just to tracked terrorism, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein revealed at a Senate hearing this week — the one with NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander, not the briefings behind closed doors. Feinstein said the database was only searched if the information is "actually related to Al Qaeda or to Iran," and that "the vast majority of the records in the database are never accessed and are deleted after a period of five years." Previously, Feinstein revealed that the Verizon court order wasn't a one-time thing, but a routine quarterly authorization. Though Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence committee, has called Snowden a "traitor" for his leaks, she's proven to be an excellent source of intelligence information herself.
At Wednesday's hearing, Alexander, responding to a question about contractors' ability to obtain classified intelligence material, said it was because Snowden was good at his job: "Some of these folks have tremendous skills to operate networks," he said. "I have grave concerns about that—the access that he had." Rep. Mike Rogers, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, accused Snowden of exaggerating the reach of his knowledge. "He was lying," Rogers said after a closed-door House session with Alexander on Thursday. "He clearly has over-inflated his position, he has over-inflated his access and he's even over-inflated what the actually technology of the programs would allow one to do. It's impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do." Rogers also added that it was impossible to know right now just how much access Snowden really had, but that "we will know the answer to that shortly."
But Snowden did have skills, and the FBI was looking into him several days before the first report was published by The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald, Reuters reports. Snowden had taken leave without pay, telling his bosses he was getting treatment for epilepsy. Snowden didn't return, and first Booz Allen and then the U.S. government started looking for him. According to Reuters' source, Snowden was a "geek" known for being gifted: "This guy's really good with his fingers on the keyboard. He's really good." Most NSA workers are banned from using thumb drives, the L.A. Times reports, but "There are people who need to use thumb drive and they have special permission. But when you use one, people always look at you funny." Snowden was apparently undeterred by funny looks.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.