A NSA document from 1991 provides some insight on why Vladimir Putin called Edward Snowden a Christmas present after he landed in Moscow on June 23.
“In their quest to benefit from the great advantages of networked computer systems, the U.S. military and intelligence communities have put almost all of their classified ‘eggs’ into one very precarious basket: computer system administrators,” states a declassified document published in the 1996 issue of the internal NSA journal Cryptologic Quarterly and highlighted by Cryptome.
On May 20 he flew to Hong Kong reportedly carrying “four laptop computers that enable him to gain access to some of the US government’s most highly-classified secrets.”
The 22-year-old memo explains how he was able to pull that off:
“A relatively small number of system administrators are able to read, copy, move, alter, and destroy almost every piece of classified information handled by a given agency or organisation,” the author, an intelligence analyst in the information system security officer’s threat analysis division, wrote.
The unnamed analyst notes the lack of proper NSA oversight when it came to system administrators: “It seems amazing that so few are allowed to control so much – apparently with little or no supervision or security audits.”
Snowden is now in Russian hands, and his privileged position within the NSA is why any foreign intelligence agency would benefit for hosting him.
“It is their tremendous access to classified information and control of classified computer, systems that makes system administrators prime targets for foreign intelligence recruitment,” the NSA analyst continues. “[They] can so easily, and so quickly, … steal vast quantities of information.”
There is no clear evidence that the Kremlin recruited Snowden.
There are only concerns that NSA-trained hacker may have been in contact with WikiLeaks — beyond coordinating with WikiLeaks’-linked journalists Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald — while he raided NSA systems and planned his escape from Hawaii. If so, given that WikiLeaks is run by Australian Julian Assange and is cozy with the Kremlin, that would be a type of foreign intelligence recruitment.
Even if Snowden initially acted completely on his own, the Kremlin could benefit from the intel in the 30-year-old American’s head — such as information on the NSA’s vetting process for systems administrators — if not from his cache.
But two things are certain: Putin was sure glad to see him, and the NSA knew why long ago.
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