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Snowden covered his tracks

By ADAM GOLDMAN and KIMBERLY DOZIER
August 24, 2013

Edward Snowden (The Guardian)

Edward Snowden (The Guardian)

The U.S. government’s efforts to determine which highly classified materials leaker Edward Snowden took from the National Security Agency have been frustrated by Snowden’s sophisticated efforts to cover his digital trail by deleting or bypassing electronic logs, government officials told The Associated Press. Such logs would have showed what information Snowden viewed or downloaded.

The government’s forensic investigation is wrestling with Snowden’s apparent ability to defeat safeguards established to monitor and deter people looking at information without proper permission, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the sensitive developments publicly.

The disclosure undermines the Obama administration’s assurances to Congress and the public that the NSA surveillance programs can’t be abused because its spying systems are so aggressively monitored and audited for oversight purposes: If Snowden could defeat the NSA’s own tripwires and internal burglar alarms, how many other employees or contractors could do the same?

In July, nearly two months after Snowden’s earliest disclosures, NSA Director Keith Alexander declined to say whether he had a good idea of what Snowden had downloaded or how many NSA files Snowden had taken with him, noting an ongoing criminal investigation.

NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines told the AP that Alexander “had a sense of what documents and information had been taken,” but “he did not say the comprehensive investigation had been completed.” Vines would not say whether Snowden had found a way to view and download the documents he took, without the NSA knowing.

In defending the NSA surveillance programs that Snowden revealed, Deputy Attorney General James Cole told Congress last month that the administration effectively monitors the activities of employees using them.

“This program goes under careful audit,” Cole said. “Everything that is done under it is documented and reviewed before the decision is made and reviewed again after these decisions are made to make sure that nobody has done the things that you’re concerned about happening.”

The disclosure of Snowden’s hacking prowess inside the NSA also could dramatically increase the perceived value of his knowledge to foreign governments, which would presumably be eager to learn any counter-detection techniques that could be exploited against U.S. government networks.

It also helps explain the recent seizure in Britain of digital files belonging to David Miranda — the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald — in an effort to help quantify Snowden’s leak of classified material to the Guardian newspaper. Authorities there stopped Miranda last weekend as he changed planes at Heathrow Airport while returning home to Brazil from Germany, where Miranda had met with Laura Poitras, a U.S. filmmaker who has worked with Greenwald on the NSA story.

Snowden, a former U.S. intelligence contractor, was employed by Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii before leaking classified documents to the Guardian and The Washington Post. As a system administrator, Snowden had the ability to move around data and had access to thumb drives that would have allowed him to transfer information to computers outside the NSA’s secure system, Alexander has said.

In his job, Snowden purloined many files, including ones that detailed the U.S. government’s programs to collect the metadata of phone calls of U.S. citizens and copy Internet traffic as it enters and leaves the U.S., then routes it to the NSA for analysis.

Officials have said Snowden had access to many documents but didn’t know necessarily how the programs functioned. He dipped into compartmentalized files as systems administrator and took what he wanted. He managed to do so for months without getting caught. In May, he flew to Hong Kong and eventually made his way to Russia, where that government has granted him asylum.

NBC News reported Thursday that the NSA was “overwhelmed” in trying to figure what Snowden had stolen and didn’t know everything he had downloaded.

Insider threats have troubled the administration and Congress, particularly in the wake of Bradley Manning, a young soldier who decided to leak hundreds of thousands of sensitive documents in late 2009 and early 2010.

Congress had wanted to address the insider threat problem in the 2010 Intelligence Authorization Act, but the White House asked for the language to be removed because of concerns about successfully meeting a deadline. In the 2013 version, Congress included language urging the creation of an automated, insider-threat detection program.
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Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

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4 Responses to Snowden covered his tracks

  1. Bill Cravener

    August 25, 2013 at 6:08 am

    Not only has Snowden admitted to planning the NSA data break-ins and theft of that data he has also admitted to the preconceived notion of releasing the information to foreign entities. This self-admission defines the acts of a traitor and most certainly not those of a concerned citizen. Revealing classified NSA secrets to our enemies, just like the Rosenberg’s did in the past, the same punishment should await this SOB!

  2. Carl Nemo **==

    August 25, 2013 at 7:02 am

    There’s a movement petitioning the Nobel committee to award the “Peace Prize” to Bradley Manning. So too it might be a good idea to award the same to Edward Snowden or both as joint recipients. They awarded “Mr. Change we can believe in”, Obama the prize a short time after ascending to our highest office and all for what?; a continuation of Bush/Cheney’s eight year reign of (t)errors waging endless offensive wars on planet earth simply to enrich their patrons in the TIC (Terrorist Industrial Complex).

    Regardless of how their ‘crimes’ against the state might seem to challenged intellects, they’ve both revealed the extent of our now out of control, “Orwellian” styled government;I.E., a war on our core freedoms. Evidently the concept of peace is waging endless, economy supporting wars utilizing the technique of “doublethink” found in 1984 to justify our now bizarre national paradigm.

    “Big Brother”,I.E., Obama & Co. know what’s best for us all. We best stand down, keep our pie holes shut and know who our betters are…no? / : |

    Our government has become an out of control, rogue ‘beast’ that needs to brought to heel on a very short leash, courtesy of “We the People”, immediately if not sooner.

    Carl Nemo **==

  3. Keith

    August 25, 2013 at 10:47 am

    The government’s forensic investigation is wrestling with Snowden’s apparent ability to defeat safeguards established to monitor and deter people looking at information without proper permission.

    All of which simply reinforces the notion (to borrow a quote from Scottie in a Star Trek movie of a few years back) that the…”more complex you make the plumbing, the easier it is to plug up the pipe.”

    Clearly, (and as is endemic with most bureaucracies) these professional snoops have now created a so-called “intelligence” bumbledom that has grown so large, complex and convoluted that the “left hand” doesn’t know (or is willing to share) what the “right hand” is doing.

    As a result (and any way you cut it) the “Terrorist Industrial Complex” that’s been pulling the strings for this clearly out of control snooping empire (and which has has been aided and abetted by a self-serving US Congress) that its sheer size has now become its own worst enemy.

    Indeed, it’s become painfully clear that most of these clowns couldn’t find their way out of a wet paper bag, let alone stop a concerted terrorist attack.

    And the simple fact that a lowly contracted intern now has their Trillion-Dollar-A-Year empire tied up in knots trying to plug the “leak” he created would all be comic if what these snoops were doing in the first place wasn’t also so blatantly criminal.

  4. Wayne K Dolik

    August 25, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    A turf war between highly secret government agencies could be in fact a part of the bigger picture. After all Snowden has had a great deal of cooperation in China and Russia and that takes a lot of intelligence expertise. I think Snowden has had a lot of help. Government agencies are allways in competition for a slice of the pie. Who am I to say someone didn’t get too greedy.

    Another thing Snowden has exposed is the serious conflict of interest issues in congress with commitee heads and their financial dealings with companys in the Military Industrial Complex. It is now reported that, many of our Congress People have been blind-sighted for years with respect to their duty of Congressional oversight. Also, ex-military and the revolving door to the MIC, and this stinks to high heaven!

    We need to focus on aspects of this episode that Snowden’s actions have exposed.