The spin on Snowden is entering the realm of the absurd:
“Every day, they are learning how brilliant [Snowden] was,” said a former U.S. official with knowledge of the case. “This is why you don’t hire brilliant people for jobs like this. You hire smart people. Brilliant people get you in trouble.”
One of Snowden’s superpowers cited in that NBC story is the ability to “impersonate” high-level officials. This is a garden-variety capability that a lot of users with administrative access have. I have it in a couple of different forms on systems that I manage for clients. From the point of view of security, it’s a necessary evil, and it needs to be carefully controlled and audited. Hype and spin notwithstanding, the huge trove of documents that Snowden extracted from the NSA isn’t evidence that he’s some kind of Lex Luthor who couldn’t be thwarted by mere mortals. Instead, it shows that NSA’s controls were weak, and the NSA’s leadership needs to be held accountable.
Speaking of Snowden’s revelations, yesterday’s dump of the “black budget” that he gave to the Washington Post includes this:
Long before Snowden’s leaks, the U.S. intelligence community worried about “anomalous behavior” by employees and contractors with access to classified material. The NSA planned to ward off a “potential insider compromise of sensitive information” by re-investigating at least 4,000 people this year who hold high-level security clearances.
That was a little too little, a little too late, but clearly the NSA knew that it had a problem with contractors like Snowden, no matter how “brilliant” he is. The question is how many other geniuses, or subgeniuses, absconded with documents in the past few years.