FISA NSA Security

Former NSA Analysts, Lawyers: Snowden Claims Are “Absurd”

According to the Los Angeles Times, former NSA analysts and lawyers for the agency are casting serious doubt on claims made by Edward Snowden, and in some cases are even calling the revelations “absurd” and a ‘complete and utter falsehood.’

Any NSA analyst “at any time can target anyone, any selector, anywhere,” Snowden told the Guardian. “I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal email.”

Robert Deitz, a former top lawyer at the NSA and CIA, called the claim a “complete and utter” falsehood.

“First of all it’s illegal,” he said. “There is enormous oversight. They have keystroke auditing. There are, from time to time, cases in which some analyst is [angry] at his ex-wife and looks at the wrong thing and he is caught and fired,” he said. [...]

“When he’s saying he could just put any phone number in and look at phone calls, it just doesn’t work that way,” he said. “It’s absurd. There are technical limits, and then there are people who review these sorts of queries.”

He added, “Let’s say I have your email address. In order to get that approved, you would have to go through a number of wickets. Some technical, some human. An individual analyst can’t just say, ‘Oh, I found this email address or phone number.’ It’s not simple to do it on any level, even for purely foreign purposes.”

I’ve privately speculated that Snowden may have abused his position as a systems administrator to gain access to information he wasn’t suppose to have access to, and former officiails interviewed by the LA Times seem to share that sentiment.

The former senior government official said that as a computer expert, Snowden could have gained access on the NSA computer network to some of the documents he purportedly leaked. But other documents he claims that he provided to the Guardian and the Washington Post, such as the FISA order, are in theory supposed to be kept more tightly held, he said.

One of the issues investigators will be examining is “what access was he granted and what access did he gain” himself in order to obtain the documents, the former official said.

It may have been lost in the hooplah of the past few days, but Snowden was a systems administrator who had a part in maintaining Booz Allen’s computer network. A technical job. There may have been no reason for him to be looking at any of the material he handed over to The Guardian and The Washington Post.

I’m not necessarily saying that his lack of responsibility for the material means it was categorically wrong for him to be upset by its content, but the story as it was originally reported continues to fall apart under further scrutiny.

We now also know that his salary was not $200,000 per year as originally reported by The Guardian, but rather $122,000 per year according to his former employer Booz Allen.

Because many of the allegations Snowden made require a leap of faith to believe, or at least a profound distrust in government, including exemplary congressmen such as Al Franken and President Obama himself, questions of character are uncharacteristically relevant. And government officials aren’t alone in their denial. The companies that are supposedly responsible for handing over troves of data to the government have also issued strongly-worded denials.

That character is beginning come into question may be a consequence of the writing style of one Glenn Greenwald. His writing, especially when it comes to the Obama Administration, often comes across as the closing statement of the prosecution rather than hard-boiled journalism. The Guardian’s profile of Snowden itself was fawning and glowing with obvious adoration.

Update… former NSA Director Michael Hayden also seems to be implying that Snowden may have abused his position to gain access to certain files. via TPM

Hayden also said he believed it would be possible for a computer technician like Snowden to access the volume of documents Greenwald said had been given to his newspaper. However, Hayden said he was shocked to see an employee of Snowden’s rank was apparently able to access and leak materials on the NSA’s top-secret surveillance programs that rely on requests made through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“Not surprised at the ‘thousands of documents.’ That’s easy,” Hayden wrote. “VERY surprised at which documents, eg FISA and PRISM.”