The US intelligence may never know the extent of classified information that former NSA contactor Edward Snowden collected from government computers, investigative officials said after six months of probe, New York Times reports.
“They’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of man-hours trying to
reconstruct everything he has gotten, and they still don’t know
all of what he took,” a senior administration officials said
to The NYT. “I know that seems crazy, but everything with
this is crazy.”
Intelligence and law enforcement investigators remain unsure about a full scope of secret files that Snowden stole partly because the NSA facility in Hawaii, where the agency’s former contractor worked, was not equipped with up-to-date employee monitoring software.
As a system administrator Snowden possessed enough security privileges to access data remotely, browse it freely, as well as take it off its home servers and copy it onto portable drives.
Should the security software be installed at that time – like at other NSA facilities - it would help the agency to detect when and where its employees logged in and which information they were surfing through.
As a result, the NSA, the largest spy agency in the world with some 35,000 stuffers, has no idea which file or folder Snowden was viewing when stationed there.
Officials have told the NYT that they believe Snowden would have known that the Hawaii facility was lacking that security software. They also think he was acting alone.
Investigators have also confirmed to the newspaper that Edward Snowden was logging into classified systems using the passwords of other security agency employees.
Snowden persuaded 25 fellow workers to give him login keys and passwords at their base in Hawaii that gave him access to classified materials, Reuters reported in November, citing an unnamed source.
Also, to cover his tracks, he was also hacking firewalls installed to limit access to certain parts of the system, officials have told the NYT.
As a result, Snowden managed to leave the US with the obtained documents and came to Hong Kong. From he flew to Russia, where he is currently living under a one-year asylum.
Snowden claims that he has given all the documents, of which he has no copies, to a group of journalists and news organizations, including the Guardian. But some top officials at the NSA do not believe him, like Rick Ledgett.
But at the same time, Ledgett, who heads the task force on the Snowden leaks, told CBS News’ John Miller on Thursday that he believes “it's worth having a conversation about” a possible amnesty for Snowden.
In this case, some form of absolute guarantee would be demanded from Snowden that no further leaks would take place and that Snowden hand over whatever documents he might still have.
“I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured, and my bar for those assurances would be very high. It would be more than just an assertion on his part,” Rick Leggett said.
However, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander did not welcome such possibly, saying that other government employees or contractors with access to sensitive information could consider it a go-ahead.