It was recently revealed in a released National Security Agency memo that Edward Snowden “tricked” his colleagues into giving him password information. This supposedly happened when Snowden told the NSA employees he needed their password protocols to perform his job as a system administrator. We were also informed that the NSA employees were allowed to resign, along with employees of other government agencies who had committed the same offense.
There are so many questions created by this narrative put out by the NSA that it’s hard to know where to start. Here you have one of the most damaging releases of classified information in the history of the United States that could have serious national security consequences, and we are hearing about employees being allowed to resign.
In my limited military career in special operations, I obtained a Top Secret Special Compartmental Intelligence clearance. The concept of compartmentalization was drilled into myself and my colleagues. If you had no “need to know,” you were not privy to the information nor did you have any way to acquire it. I find it stunning that Edward Snowden was able to obtain the information he did, and I’m even more stunned that he was able to walk out the door with the data.
I can remember clearly in the late eighties there was a situation at Elmendorf AFB, AK when a F-15 fighter being ferried to a forward operating point accidently fired an air to air missile at a fellow Air Force jet, seriously damaging the aircraft. The immediate result was that the squadron commander lost his job and the wing commander lost his job–within a few days! Accountability of command was in full display. We are not seeing any accountability from the Obama Administration.
In the mid-eighties, when computer workstations first came on the scene in the intelligence community, there were serious suggestions on how to deal with the possibility of storing large amounts of classified data on a computer. It’s much easier to walk out with a floppy disk or a thumb drive than reams of paper or real to real tapes.
Sources tell me that credible efforts were made to seal off the intelligence community data by making the hardware and software incompatible with civilian computing systems. Suggestions were made to insure every copy of data was overseen by a highly placed security officer within the organization and the copy and transmit functions separated and monitored. Inventory control systems were to be set up to track all copies of data to prevent leakage. These recommendations were put forth by the late James Angleton himself.
Alas, the protocol was rejected due to cost considerations. And that begs the question, what has been the monetary cost of Snowden’s leaks? I understand that many of the world’s intelligence agencies are reverting to a more pen and paper oriented system to prevent these large scale information transfers. “This fiasco is the direct result of ‘false economies’ in the national security field. Typewriters, hard copies and file cabinets are expensive and inefficient, but comparatively difficult to penetrate. Computers, on the other hands, are cheaper in the short term – and far more efficient – but a single compromise can be catastrophic,” to quote a well-placed source.
Wall Street has been using biometrics for years for access to its trading systems. Does the intelligence community need a profit motive in order to secure its data? Does it take millions of dollars of profit on the line to ensure secrecy? Any trader that has used a Bloomberg system will be familiar with this concept.
The real issue however is accountability. We have seen this problem over and over again with this administration. Illegal behavior is condoned and even promoted. There certainly has been no public accountability for the Benghazi killings, the IRS scandal, the Snowden failure, the Fast and Furious failures, the Obamacare incompetence, targeting the free press, and many others. Without timely accountability, you create a moral hazard that facilitates more corrupt behavior.
And yes, this goes all the way to the top. If the president is not accountable for this episode, is he accountable for anything on his watch? Or does the repetition of Schultz from Hogan’s Heros let him off the hook? “I knew nothing!”
Perhaps information will come out in the future about how heads rolled from the top to bottom in the National Security Agency in response to the Snowden fiasco. I’m holding my breath.