National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden began mining for sensitive documents about the United States government’s surveillance programs more than a year before going to the media, sources now report.
According to Reuters, the 30-year-old former intelligence contractor first collected documents detailing the NSA’s electronic spying programs in April 2012 while employed at Dell Inc., the computer company Mr. Snowden worked at from 2009 until earlier this year.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, Reuters’ sources said that Snowden started scouring networks for information about eavesdropping programs run by both the NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters while at Dell, and he left a digital footprint in his path to mark his territory.
When asked for comment by Reuters, Dell spokesman David Frink said, "We are honoring our customer's request that we not comment on this matter.” Mark Hosenball, a reporter with the news agency, wrote that company’s response left him to presume that Dell was also contracted to work for the NSA.
Snowden left Dell earlier this year to take a job at Booz Allen Hamilton, an intelligence contractor whose relationship with the US government has been well documented for decades. It was there, earlier news reports claimed, that Snowden began accumulating troves of data about the government’s spy apparatus which were later leaked to the media and published beginning with articles in the Guardian and Washington Post on June 5.
“My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked,” Snowden told the South China Morning Post one week after the first leaks were published. “That is why I accepted that position about three months ago.”
When the South China Post asked Snowden if he took any job specifically to gather evidence of surveillance, he replied, “Correct on Booz.” Now allegations made to Reuters suggest that while Snowden didn’t necessarily sign on to work with Dell three years earlier for the sake of scooping up confidential files, he used his access there to accumulate material during his tenure.
In Thursday’s report, Hosenball recalled how an Internet alias used by Snowden authored an Internet post in February 2010 on the technology site Ars Technica in which the role of private corporations with regards to working alongside the federal government was critiqued.
"It really concerns me how little this sort of corporate behavior bothers those outside of technology circles," the account linked to Snowden wrote. "Society really seems to have developed an unquestioning obedience towards spooky types.”
Since the first leaked documents attributed to Snowden more than two months ago, discussions over the role of not just those contractors but the government itself have been rampant in the United States and abroad. Despite criticism from civil libertarians, however, the White House and select members of Congress have defended the surveillance programs time and time again, touting strict oversight procedures that have been put in place specifically to prevent abuses.
Also on Thursday, though, the Washington Post published NSA documents handed over by Mr. Snowden in which it was revealed that the NSA violated those oversight rules upwards of thousands of times in just the year 2012.
On Friday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said, “The American people rely on the intelligence community to provide forthright and complete information so that Congress and the courts can properly conduct oversight,” and added, “I remain concerned that we are still not getting straightforward answers from the NSA.”
“I plan to hold another hearing on these matters in the Judiciary Committee and will continue to demand honest and forthright answers from the intelligence community. Using advanced surveillance technologies in secret demands close oversight and appropriate checks and balances, and the American people deserve no less than that,” he said in a statement.