How did whistleblower Edward Snowden steal all those top secret documents from a secure National Security Agency facility in Hawaii? Simple: with a good old-fashioned flash drive.
That’s allegedly how Snowden, who was working at the facility as a contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton, smuggled the documents he then leaked to The Guardian and The Washington Post, according to officials questioned by The Los Angeles Times.
The classified documents leaked last week revealed that the NSA has been collecting millions of phone records from Verizon; the existence of an international surveillance system called PRISM which apparently collects data from the likes of Google and Facebook; a secret Obama order to draw up overseas targets for cyber attacks; and Boundless Informant, a tool to datamine the world.
According to the paper’s sources, portable devices were generally banned inside the NSA facility, although the ban wasn’t universal, at least not for system administrators like Snowden. “Of course, there are always exceptions” a former NSA official told the L.A. Times. “There are people who need to use a thumb drive and they have special permission. But when you use one, people always look at you funny.”
Snowden is now believed to be hiding in Hong Kong, where he traveled before his leaks were made public, and before he outed himself on Sunday. Meanwhile, authorities in the U.S. have publicly said he is under investigation, and one official told the L.A. Times that investigators already “know how many documents he downloaded and what server he took them from.”
One thing they don’t know yet though, is how he got access to the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court order sent to Verizon, which was supposedly only accessible to very few people, even inside the NSA.
While seemingly an innocuous item, the dangers of allowing flash drives into sensitive intelligence or military facilities have been widely reported in the past. And, in the case of Wikileaks source Pvt. Bradley Manning, he simply used Lady Gaga-labeled CDs to smuggle information out.
In the meantime, Reuters has uncovered some details from Snowden’s past, including his online nicknames and how he used to work for a Japanese anime company run by friends called Ryuhana Press. Its website has since been taken down, but Snowden’s profile is still accessible through the Wayback Machine, a web page archive.
After the Reuters exclusive, its former social media editor Anthony De Rosa discovered that Snowden was an Ars Technica reader. He was also an active member of its online forums using the nickname “The True HOOHA.”
“It really concerns me how little this sort of corporate behavior bothers those outside of technology circles. Society really seems to have developed an unquestioning obedience towards spooky types,” he wrote.
In 2006, he even joked with another user, telling the user that the weird noise coming from his Xbox 360, which Snowden called the new “NSA surveillance program,” was “the sound of freedom.”