Is this more damaging to Snowden or to Dell and the NSA, which had 11 more months than thought to sniff out what he was doing and pinch him before he started working at Booz Allen Hamilton to harvest even juicier stuff?
Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden began downloading documents describing the U.S. government’s electronic spying programs while he was working for Dell Inc in April 2012, almost a year earlier than previously reported, according to U.S. officials and other sources familiar with the matter…
Snowden downloaded information while employed by Dell about eavesdropping programs run by the NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, and left an electronic footprint indicating when he accessed the documents, said the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.
David Frink, a spokesman for Round Rock, Texas-based Dell, declined to comment on any aspect of Snowden’s employment with the company, saying Dell’s “customer” – presumably the NSA – had asked Dell not to talk publicly about him…
Some of the material Snowden downloaded in April 2012 while a Dell employee related to NSA collection from fiber-optic cables, including transoceanic cables, of large quantities of internet traffic and other communications, the sources said.
Help me with the timeline here. Unless I (and Joshua Foust) missed something, there was no evidence until now that Snowden had lifted anything from the NSA before he started at Booz Allen in March 2013. Which makes sense: If you’re going to risk a long prison stretch to steal highly classified information and publicize it, you’d want to carefully plan the operation in advance and do it as quickly as possible before getting out of dodge. The longer you’re sitting around with the documents on your hard drive in Hawaii, the greater the chance that the feds will figure out what you’ve done and move in before you get away. That’s what made Snowden’s admission that he took the job at Booz in March for the specific purpose of pilfering documents seem logical. He spent two months there downloading stuff and then was on his way to Hong Kong before the NSA knew what hit them. Get in, get the stuff, get out.
But that’s not what happened. He was lifting stuff about NSA surveillance in April 2012 — it’s unclear if it was from Dell’s servers or the NSA’s — and then, to all appearances, squatted on it for eight months until December, when he finally contacted Glenn Greenwald. Why did he feel safe-ish doing that? Did he tell anyone what he’d done? Did he, say, have any contact with Wikileaks or other foreign actors? Could be he was just wrestling for eight months with his conscience and the prospect of life in prison if he decided to escalate his spying-on-spies activities. In that case, though, I want to know if his surreptitious downloading in April was a one-time thing, i.e. a flourish of curiosity, or if he kept going with it throughout the rest of his time at Dell. The longer his counterspying activities went out, the stranger it is that he felt confident that he could keep at it and the stranger it is that he was never detected.
In other Snowden news, read this grimly amusing story about the people in his orbit — Greenwald, Wikileaks, Snowden’s father — jockeying for position to serve as Snowden’s “real” spokesman. It’s gotten sufficiently nasty that Greenwald was accused by the wife of Lon Snowden’s lawyer of trying to arrange a seven-figure TV interview with Snowden; Greenwald angrily denies it and claims he asked no more than $50,000 to produce the interview at cost. I’m sure this soap opera won’t end badly.