Following a stinging report in the New York Times explaining how Edward Snowden was able to collect his trove of top-secret government documents, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y) this morning took to the Sunday show Face The Nation to make the following claim (full transcript): “A lot that have has been changed; there is monitoring now of what goes on. Snowden would not be able to do it again in the future.”
How did Snowden do it? He used automated software that an intelligence official likened to a “web crawler” to the Times, meaning that his collection was, to quote the same individual, “quite automated.” So, over a period of time, Snowden was able to stash top-secret government secrets on auto pilot.
That’s embarrassing. Rep. King has an explanation of how the country’s spies couldn’t spot the gap in their own defense:
I think this is very reminiscent of what happened with Hanson, the FBI spy, where the FBI, the NSA are so concerned about outside forces penetrating their system that they just did not take the proper precautions internally. And part of that also is because people such as Snowden and others in his position, they want them to have the facility to be able to move quickly, to get things done. And so there were not the restrictions on them that there should have been.
There are two elements to the above that are worth highlighting: First, that there was precedent that was ignored by the NSA in regards to the potential of internal threats to the integrity of its data. And, because the NSA wants its workers — internal, and external alike it would appear — to be able to move “quickly,” proper safeguards were not put into place.
This is perhaps not as strong a defense as was intended. If your argument is predicated on the NSA being able to move quickly, admitting that “restrictions” that “should have been” in place were not due to an internal bias to action over oversight isn’t calming. (Rep. King recently told CNN, in the wake of the President’s speech proposing reforms that “So long as the NSA can move quickly to protect us against plots, that’s all that is necessary: That the data is there, and the NSA is able to move quickly.”)
The takeaway from the above is that given the new strictures, provided competence at the agency in patching the holes in its own chicken coop, we should not expect more Snowdens in the near future.
But, as Rep. King also pointed out this morning, it is “too late” to re-tube the Snowden toothpaste.