You may recall there was a bizarre story last week in the NY Times, in which CIA officials had "leaked" to the NY Times that while in Geneva, back in 2009, Ed Snowden had been written up for "trying to break into classified computer files to which he was not authorized to have access." The CIA, though, quickly denied the story
, and the whole thing seemed odd. The way it was written, it certainly suggested that Snowden was "hacking" around for questionable documents for years. However, in his new interview with the NYT's James Risen, Snowden explains what really happened
, which actually tells a far more interesting
story. It's not so much a story about Snowden trying to hack into machines to access data, but more a story of his first clear lesson in finding out what the intelligence community does to whistleblowers: because that's what he had done:
Mr. Snowden said that in 2008 and 2009, he was working in Geneva as a telecommunications information systems officer, handling everything from information technology and computer networks to maintenance of the heating and air-conditioning systems. He began pushing for a promotion, but got into what he termed a “petty e-mail spat” in which he questioned a senior manager’s judgment.
Several months later, Mr. Snowden said, he was writing his annual self-evaluation when he discovered flaws in the software of the C.I.A.’s personnel Web applications that would make them vulnerable to hacking. He warned his supervisor, he said, but his boss advised him to drop the matter and not rock the boat. After a technical team also brushed him off, he said, his boss finally agreed to allow him to test the system to prove that it was flawed.
He did so by adding some code and text “in a nonmalicious manner” to his evaluation document that showed that the vulnerability existed, he said. His immediate supervisor signed off on it and sent it through the system, but a more senior manager — the man Mr. Snowden had challenged earlier — was furious and filed a critical comment in Mr. Snowden’s personnel file, he said.
This is kind of interesting. It sounds like some CIA folks had tried to "leak" the story about the early reprimand in an attempt to make Snowden look bad, but now that a more complete version of the story is out, you quickly realize that it actually reinforces the reasons why Snowden knew that going through "official channels" for whistleblowing wasn't effective, and would likely just lead to him getting in trouble.