In fact, we know the answer is "we don't know."
According to Richard Esposito, Matthew Cole and Robert Windrem at NBC News, however, Edward Snowden spoofed the digital identities of top NSA officials in order to access top level servers on NSAnet, the spy agency's intranet.
The title of their article, "Snowden impersonated NSA officials, sources say" leaves me guessing that the "sources" have an interest in managing what gets disclosed. While not surprising, I'm struck by the matter-of-fact tone of the piece. It reads very much like the WSJ LOVEINT article that I wrote about last Saturday. And like that article, it leaves me feeling like the authors are very casually telling us something we did not really know until now.
Please proceeded under the Longhorn-colored fiberoptic rats nest to run down the possibilities.
“This is why you don’t hire brilliant people for jobs like this. You hire smart people. Brilliant people get you in trouble.”^ That's the money quote from the article. We don't know if that come from the "source" or who it is. When I read that quote I feel like whoever that person is wants me to know that he is really, really exasperated by Mr. Snowden and that I should be too. Why should I feel that way?
- former U.S. official
Well, "He reportedly used his privileges to download 20,000 documents." the NBC authors write.
The NSA still doesn’t know exactly what Snowden took. But its forensic investigation has included trying to figure out which higher level officials Snowden impersonated online to access the most sensitive documents.Let me repeat that: "the most sensitive documents".
So 20k documents, but they don't know what they are. But they know they are the most sensitive documents. And where they got the 20k without knowing the contents, I dunno. David Miranda's pocket? Maybe The Guardian's basement? A number they have seen in a directory they have not been able to crack? The number is specific, but the contents are a mystery, apparently.
What is not a mystery anymore is that NSA is acknowledging "several instances" of Snowden digitally impersonating top officials and using their NSAnet credentials to access very secret documents.
How is this new, though? We already know that, right? I mean, PRISM was pretty secret. That was not supposed to make the paper. So what are they talking about here if this is a new disclosure?
We know through Greenwald that a ton more info exists to be serviced by some mystery gatekeepers if the shit hits the fan. And the boys at NBC News are telling us
But some higher level NSA officials have higher levels of clearance that give them access to the most sensitive documents.- emphasis mine
Which is no duh, right? But this is the whole point of this article, to tell us that a) there are 20k docs, b) we are blind to the contents and c) top guys got spoofed.
If you were Edward Snowden, and you just took a job at Booz Allen for three months specifically to penetrate and access secret NSA intranet sites and cherry pick the contents of the most secret files in their domain, wouldn't your try and get the most bang for your buck? Wouldn't you shoot for that top and try to spoof the biggest boys on the block?
After all, he's "brilliant", right? They pretty much said right in this article that hiring a guy as smart as Snowden is a big mistake, one they won't be making again. Why a mistake? Because he's so damn smart that he came in there planning to spoof the digital ID's of top brass in order to drink their milkshake and skip off to Hong Kong?
I'll let NBC News tell it to you:
“The damage, on a scale of 1 to 10, is a 12,” said a former intelligence official.---------------------
The NSA declined to comment.
Back in July, the Honolulu Star Advertiser carried an AP story saying that Snowden took documents containing "very sensitive, detailed blueprints of how the NSA does what they do" (Many other papers carried the same story, including the NYTimes. A Google search of that quote led to lots of page no longer found errors. Hmmm. Where's my tinfoil?) So, pretty early on we learned the scope of what Snowden did. We also learned early from Snowden himself that he expected to be pursued by the United States, and that if he was caught things would not be pretty. If he was willing to die if captured, what did he have to lose? He had the skill, he had the access, and by NSA's own admission the damage is off the scale.
Several hours ago Wired published an analysis of today's revelations about the black budget. I'm gonna go ahead and outsource this to the Fair Use department and just give you their lede:
The latest published leak from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden lays bare classified details of the U.S. government’s $52.6 billion intelligence budget, and makes the first reference in any of the Snowden documents to a “groundbreaking” U.S. encryption-breaking effort targeted squarely at internet traffic.I'm not quoting anymore of this because you really need to go ahead and read the whole thing. It is by far the best analysis I have read today in regard to this issue. Suffice it to say, the shit is getting deeper and the level of detail is becoming pretty fine grained.
Look, this is all speculation (it would have been CT in May) but when I read between the lines of NBC News or the other outlets that dealt with the spoofing story today, I'm feeling like the pump is being primed here. Someone is getting out in front. I am being managed as a reader. They are telling us something really important in the most pedestrian way possible.
As good a guess as any, considering what we know, is that Edward Snowden picked the pocket of the boys in the corner office and he's checking the time on their wristwatch.
And oh, by the way, they want us to know that.
Ok, I'll take my lumps in comments. Just remember, I say upfront I don't know.
(I won't be around to comment until later in the morning and then again around noon because of my teaching schedule, but I will be back.)
9:58 AM PT: Quick Update:
Per New York Magazine, the finger pointing has begun on this:
"How Snowden was hired for such a job is currently the topic of much finger-pointing. A review of the company that did Snowden's last background check found that US Investigations Services LLC "did not present a comprehensive picture of Mr. Snowden," while the private business blames the federal government."
How I missed it I dunno, but CNN (and others) had an article in the middle of July where officials were alerting the media that Snowden did NOT have the "crown jewels" of NSA.
U.S. intelligence now believes Edward Snowden did not gain access to the "crown jewels" of National Security Agency programs that secretly intercept and monitor conversations around the world, CNN has learned.This is from July 22nd. They are adamant. But, according to CNN, "The administration believes it knows the extent of the material that was downloaded." Which we know now is not true. At all. So, spinning in effect because
"We are not downplaying it," the official said, explaining that assessing the matter over weeks has enabled authorities to focus more directly on the impact of Snowden's actions.But "Other officials are less resolute about the extent of the exposure." CNN says.
And just one more for the road
CNN cannot independently verify the statements made either by the administration or Snowden.which means CNN wasn't really buying it as anything other than spin.