Edward Snowden, the man living in Russia as he faces U.S. espionage charges after admitting to leaking an unprecedented amount of information about the National Security Agency's classified surveillance programs, may have gained access to some documents by getting employees to divulge passwords, a new report suggests.
An image of Edward Snowden on the back of a banner is seen infront of the US Capitol during a protest against government surveillance on October 26, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Reuters reported that Snowden, a former government contractor whose client was the NSA, could have convinced dozens of employees to trust him with passwords that he didn't really need as a computer system administrator.
One source close to government-led investigations into the damaging leaks about the agency's domestic and foreign data collection told Reuters some NSA employees had given their login information to Snowden and were removed from their assignments. It is unclear if they were reassigned or fired.
Another source said up to 25 people at the NSA regional center in Hawaii could have given the Snowden logins and passwords.
With these credentials, Snowden could have accessed information he was not authorized to view.
All this leads to the issue of trusting those with security clearances. Snowden had top-secret-level status:
"In the classified world, there is a sharp distinction between insiders and outsiders. If you've been cleared and especially if you've been polygraphed, you're an insider and you are presumed to be trustworthy," said Steven Aftergood, a secrecy expert with the Federation of American Scientists.
"What agencies are having a hard time grappling with is the insider threat, the idea that the guy in the next cubicle may not be reliable," he added.
Reuters noted that a U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee bill meant to enhance security measures for intelligence programs revealed that Snowden had been able to access some material included in the leaks from passwords gained from colleagues.
Earlier this month, Snowden asked for international help to persuade the U.S. to drop its espionage charges against him, according to a letter issued by German lawmaker Hans-Christian Stroebele. But the White House and the leaders of the intelligence committee in Congress rejected his plea for clemency.
"Mr. Snowden violated U.S. law," White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer said of the former systems-analyst-turned-fugitive who has temporary asylum in Russia.
"He should return to the U.S. and face justice," Pfeiffer said, adding when pressed that no offers for clemency were being discussed.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said if Snowden had been a true whistleblower, he could have reported it to her committee privately.
"That didn't happen, and now he's done this enormous disservice to our country," Feinstein said. "I think the answer is no clemency."
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), called clemency for Snowden a "terrible idea."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.