NSA talking Snowden, insider threats

padlocked keyboard

Six months have passed since former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked an untold number of the agency’s classified secrets to journalists, and the NSA still isn’t sure how much information he made off with.

That was evidenced over the past week as the NSA began the equivalent of a public relations tour to rebuild its reputation – even as leaks continue to make headlines – when top NSA officials told CBS they are considering amnesty for Snowden in exchange for the trove of documents he took.

Richard Ledgett, the NSA official charged with assessing the damage of Snowden’s leaks, said such a move would be controversial within NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, but might be the only way the agency ever figures out exactly what information left their private networks.

“My personal view is, yes, it’s worth having a conversation about,” Ledgett said in an interview that aired Dec. 15 on 60 Minutes. “I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured, and my bar for those assurances would be very high. It would be more than just an assertion on his part.”

The State Department is not on board with the idea, and Snowden – now living under asylum in Russia – faces espionage charges filed by the Justice Department should he return to U.S. soil. NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander said he opposed an amnesty, but Alexander is set to retire come spring.  Ledgett is among a select group of candidates to succeed him.

That NSA officials have even broached the possibility of a Snowden amnesty illustrates how much power low-to-mid-level IT employees can potentially wield inside tech-dependent organizations like the NSA.

That power and the global fallout over data privacy also likely played a part in Alexander telling the Senate Judiciary Committee on Dec. 11 that the NSA has undertaken 41 actions to prevent future insider leaks. Few of the actions were detailed, but he included the so-called two-person rule, which requires two system administrators – the position Snowden held within NSA – to approve access to systems and files.

Alexander would say only that the other initiatives included “compartmentalizing and encrypting data.”

The Pentagon is also looking at shoring up its internal security threat program, soliciting industry responses for innovative methods to “identify and refer threats to the appropriate entities,” among other requirements.

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Wed, Dec 18, 2013 Blaya

When Merkel compares your agency to the Stasi, dismantling may be a better PR move.

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group