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Snowden downloaded secrets to thumb drive in Hawaii

By Ken Dilanian

Tribune Washington Bureau

LAST UPDATED: 01:57 p.m. HST, Jun 13, 2013

WASHINGTON » Former National Security Agency contract employee Edward Snowden used a computer thumb drive to smuggle highly classified documents out of an NSA facility in Hawaii, using a portable digital device supposedly barred inside the cyber spying agency, U.S. officials told the Tribune Washington Bureau.

Investigators “know how many documents he downloaded and what server he took them from,” said one official who would not be named while speaking about the ongoing investigation.

Snowden worked as a system administrator, a technical job that gave him wide access to NSA computer networks and presumably a keen understanding of how those networks are monitored for unauthorized downloads.

“Of course, there are always exceptions” to the thumb drive ban, a former NSA official said, particularly for network administrators. “There are people who need to use a thumb drive and they have special permission. But when you use one, people always look at you funny.”

FBI Director Robert Mueller III said today that he expects Snowden to be arrested and prosecuted in this country.

“He is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation,” Mueller told a House hearing. “We are taking all necessary steps to hold this person responsible for these disclosures.”

Confirmation of a thumb drive solved one of the central mysteries in the case: how Snowden, who worked for contracting giant Booz Allen Hamilton, physically removed classified material from a spy agency famous for strict security and ultra-secrecy.

He acknowledged on Sunday that he gave two news organizations details of secret NSA surveillance programs on telephones and the Internet, but did not say how he had transferred the data. He is believed to be hiding in Hong Kong.

Officials said they still don’t know how Snowden got access to an order marked “Top Secret” from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or a highly classified directive from President Barack Obama authorizing a military target list for cyber attacks. Neither document would be widely shared, or normally available to a low-level NSA employee.

A larger number of NSA employees and contractors might have access to a PowerPoint slide show on PRISM, which uses online data from nine U.S. Internet and technology companies. Snowden said he provided the slides to the Washington Post and The Guardian.

“There is a certain level of information that is not specific to a mission, but helps people who work there understand how the place functions,” the former NSA operator said.

The Pentagon, which includes the NSA, banned connecting thumb drives and other portable storage devices to classified computers after malicious software was discovered on the military’s classified network in October 2008.

The chief suspect was Russian intelligence, and investigators determined that the malware was introduced through a corrupted thumb drive. The years-long effort to clean up the system was code-named Operation Buckshot Yankee. Many of the external drives on Defense Department computers were disabled.

Two years later, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst in Iraq, downloaded hundreds of thousands of classified documents onto thumb drives and computer discs, and transferred the data to the anti-secrecy website Wikileaks.

After that, “there was a lot of focus on this type of insider threat,” the former operator said. “If it is still easy to use a thumb drive, that is a major problem.”

Manning is on trial at Fort Meade, Md., on charges of aiding America’s enemies. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison. He already has pleaded guilty to 10 lesser counts.

In testimony Wednesday, NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander acknowledged “grave concerns” about Snowden’s access to so many secret programs and documents.

“In this case, this individual was a system administrator with access to key parts of the network,” he said. “That is of serious concern to us and something that we have to fix.”

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Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
Traitor. Pure and simple.
on June 13,2013 | 02:02PM
Fred01 wrote:
That's your Asian side talking.
on June 13,2013 | 02:40PM
RichardCory wrote:
If our nation is run by criminals who trample and violate the Constitution, then it appears that a traitor is exactly the man we need to expose their corruption.
on June 13,2013 | 05:30PM
pechanga wrote:
on June 14,2013 | 04:28PM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
Traitor. Pure and simple.
on June 13,2013 | 02:02PM
cojef wrote:
From this disclosure it appears that the fidelity to the Constitution was not his motive as first thought and that the contents in the thumb drive marketability may be the real reason for his hasty departure to Honk Kong. There is talk that the Russians may grant him asylum. We just have to wait and see how it plays out.
on June 13,2013 | 05:49PM
Anonymous wrote:
A psycho got way more clearance and information than he should have. This is a nightmare! We need our government to do things for us - like protect our national security -- but, like everything else, the government, even contractors working for the government, are not so efficient. Failure is an option and it is an everyday occurrence.
on June 13,2013 | 02:09PM
IAmSane wrote:
I wonder how he managed to get thumb drives past security. I can't even take my phone with me in certain parts of the federal building.
on June 13,2013 | 02:39PM
pechanga wrote:
'Security clearance'! yuk yuk
on June 14,2013 | 04:33PM
hon2255 wrote:
we need to track down and locate this guy before he does more damage to our country and citizens , putting us all at risk if this information gets into hands of terrorists and other countries that want to do harm to us.
on June 13,2013 | 02:44PM
allie wrote:
He should come back and face justice. Hard to figure how he ever got any security clearance.
on June 13,2013 | 04:01PM
pechanga wrote:
Relevant question....thought process is intensive process....
on June 14,2013 | 04:35PM
RichardCory wrote:
Does more damage to our country and citizens by protecting our privacy rights against unreasonable searches and seizures? What a good little sheep you are. Do you really have such a penchant for the watchful eye of Big Brother? You may be nobody in the eyes of the government today, but who's to say that will be the same 20 or 30 years from now? The data they collect on you now could very well be used to wrongfully accuse you in the future. But I guess you'd rather be safe than free, right?
on June 13,2013 | 05:33PM
hon2255 wrote:
He had it the thumbdrive hidden in his orifice, yuck
on June 13,2013 | 02:45PM
IAmSane wrote:
No, because you still have to go through the metal detector.
on June 14,2013 | 10:11AM
pechanga wrote:
No Shirt! For real?
on June 14,2013 | 04:37PM
Anonymous wrote:
And so, we now learn Snowden was a “system administrator.” In other words, a computer geek, not an intelligence analyst. This makes the case against him far stronger--and his motives less altruistic--because while he had “access” to the systems, he would not have been involved in “using” them. And, in particular, he would not have had a full user’s understanding of the purposes to which those systems would have been put. To use a football analogy, a system administrator is like a groundskeeper at a stadium. His work enables the game to be played, and he sees things happening on his field, but he’s not a player, and certainly isn’t in the huddle listening to the plays being called and executing them.
on June 13,2013 | 02:47PM
pechanga wrote:
on June 14,2013 | 04:39PM
livinginhawaii wrote:
Well its the governments fault for allowing Booz Hamilton access. In the end they were his employer so they should be held accountable.
on June 13,2013 | 02:59PM
allie wrote:
on June 13,2013 | 04:02PM
Anonymous wrote:
Yes, but who hired Booz Hamilton? Whoever that was should be responsible for the mistake of hiring Booz Hamilton. Right?
on June 13,2013 | 04:11PM
livinginhawaii wrote:
Yes/agree - accountability need to be shot up the chain of responsibility.
on June 13,2013 | 05:49PM
pechanga wrote:
Many factors....Booz is said to be a major political player using Snowden as cog to bring Obama down..... Political showdowns....intrigue! Pin tail on donkey...
on June 14,2013 | 04:47PM
pechanga wrote:
Political talking heads talking ....not mistake....intentional... Think.....talking heads have been saying....HUGE revelations for while. P.S. Bear in mind...nobody telling me anything personally! LOL
on June 14,2013 | 04:53PM
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