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.

The Fed 100

Read the profiles of all this year's winners.


  • Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign event. Image: Shutterstock

    'Buy American' order puts procurement in the spotlight

    Some IT contractors are worried that the "buy American" executive order from President Trump could squeeze key innovators out of the market.

  • OMB chief Mick Mulvaney, shown here in as a member of Congress in 2013. (Photo credit Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

    White House taps old policies for new government makeover

    New guidance from OMB advises agencies to use shared services, GWACs and federal schedules for acquisition, and to leverage IT wherever possible in restructuring plans.

  • Shutterstock image (by Everett Historical): aerial of the Pentagon.

    What DOD's next CIO will have to deal with

    It could be months before the Defense Department has a new CIO, and he or she will face a host of organizational and operational challenges from Day One

  • USAF Gen. John Hyten

    General: Cyber Command needs new platform before NSA split

    U.S. Cyber Command should be elevated to a full combatant command as soon as possible, the head of Strategic Command told Congress, but it cannot be separated from the NSA until it has its own cyber platform.

  • Image from Shutterstock.

    DLA goes virtual

    The Defense Logistics Agency is in the midst of an ambitious campaign to eliminate its IT infrastructure and transition to using exclusively shared, hosted and virtual services.

  • Fed 100 logo

    The 2017 Federal 100

    The women and men who make up this year's Fed 100 are proof positive of what one person can make possibile in federal IT. Read on to learn more about each and every winner's accomplishments.

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