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New York Times: U.S. May Never Know Extent Of Snowden Leaks

Edward Snowden, seen during a video interview with <em>The Guardian</em>.
Glenn Greenwald/Laura Poitras
Edward Snowden, seen during a video interview with The Guardian.

Basing its report on unnamed "senior government officials," The New York Times makes this stunning revelation today:

"American intelligence and law enforcement investigators have concluded that they may never know the entirety of what the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden extracted from classified government computers before leaving the United States..."

Essentially, the paper goes on to report, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exploited lower security standards at the NSA's Hawaii facility. That facility, the Times reports, had not yet been equipped with a system that would have notified supervisors that Snowden was accessing large numbers of highly classified documents.

After six months of investigating, the NSA found that Snowden also covered his tracks by using the security credentials of other employees. Snowden, the Times reports, also hacked through firewalls protecting sensitive information.

Perhaps the highlight of the Times piece, however, is this quote from a "senior administration official:"

"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. I know that seems crazy, but everything with this is crazy."

The seriousness of the leak is perhaps best exemplified by two interviews that will air on CBS' 60 Minutes on Sunday.

Rick Ledgett, the man in charge of the Snowden leak task force, told the program that the U.S. should consider giving Snowden immunity in exchange for any documents he may still have in his possession.

"My personal view is, yes, it's worth having a conversation about," Ledgett said according to excerpts from the interview released on Friday. "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."

Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, told 60 Minutes he disagreed with Ledgett.

"I think people have to be held accountable for their actions," Keith said. "Because what we don't want is the next person to do the same thing, race off to Hong Kong and to Moscow with another set of data, knowing they can strike the same deal."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is an international correspondent for NPR. He was named NPR's Mexico City correspondent in 2022. Before that, he was based in Cape Town, South Africa.
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