The US government has gone to great lengths to portray Edward Snowden as some kind of loner, a loser, a narcissistic fame-seeker, a criminal, a drop out with a grievance who was trying to discredit a government that was tirelessly seeking only that which was good and noble. They have been aided in this effort by some elements in the media, such as last week’s CBS’s 60 Minutes story on the NSA that has been widely panned as giving a platform for NSA propaganda. Given its recent debacle on the Benghazi story, one wonders how long that show can portray itself as a credible news outlet.
But the government’s narrative is not catching on. Andy Greenberg writes in Forbes magazine about speaking with one of his co-workers that Snowden seemed to have been held him in high esteem, and that he was given increasingly greater privileges because he was so good at his job.
But an NSA staffer who contacted me last month and asked not to be identified–and whose claims we checked with Snowden himself via his ACLU lawyer Ben Wizner—offered me a very different, firsthand portrait of how Snowden was seen by his colleagues in the agency’s Hawaii office: A principled and ultra-competent, if somewhat eccentric employee, and one who earned the access used to pull off his leak by impressing superiors with sheer talent.
The anonymous NSA staffer’s priority in contacting me, in fact, was to refute stories that have surfaced as the NSA and the media attempt to explain how a contractor was able to obtain and leak the tens of thousands of highly classified documents that have become the biggest public disclosure of NSA secrets in history. According to the source, Snowden didn’t dupe coworkers into handing over their passwords, as one report has claimed. Nor did Snowden fabricate SSH keys to gain unauthorized access, he or she says.
Instead, there’s little mystery as to how Snowden gained his access: It was given to him.
“That kid was a genius among geniuses,” says the NSA staffer. “NSA is full of smart people, but anybody who sat in a meeting with Ed will tell you he was in a class of his own…I’ve never seen anything like it.”
This does not surprise me. The meticulous care with which Snowden made his detailed preparations about what to collect, how to collect it, and how and to whom to disseminate it, all show a methodical and principled mind. Greenberg’s source goes on to list all the ways in which Snowden acquired greater access by superior performance at his job.
But what must really scare the hell out of the NSA is the final quote in the article.
Snowden’s former colleague says that he or she has slowly come to understand Snowden’s decision to leak the NSA’s files. “I was shocked and betrayed when I first learned the news, but as more time passes I’m inclined to believe he really is trying to do the right thing and it’s not out of character for him. I don’t agree with his methods, but I understand why he did it,” he or she says. “I won’t call him a hero, but he’s sure as hell no traitor.”
As more and more people realize the merits of what Snowden has done despite the government propaganda against him, the NSA and other agencies of the government must be alarmed at the potential for future leaks.