Long time NSA watcher James Bamford spent a bunch of time with Ed Snowden in Moscow recently, leading to an absolutely fascinating story in Wired
. There's lots of interesting stuff in there, but this seems particularly interesting. After noting how the US government -- over a year later -- is still scrambling to figure out exactly what Snowden took, he notes:
Snowden tells me it doesn't have to be like this. He says that he actually intended the government to have a good idea about what exactly he stole. Before he made off with the documents, he tried to leave a trail of digital bread crumbs so investigators could determine which documents he copied and took and which he just “touched.” That way, he hoped, the agency would see that his motive was whistle-blowing and not spying for a foreign government. It would also give the government time to prepare for leaks in the future, allowing it to change code words, revise operational plans, and take other steps to mitigate damage. But he believes the NSA's audit missed those clues and simply reported the total number of documents he touched—1.7 million. (Snowden says he actually took far fewer.) “I figured they would have a hard time,” he says. “I didn't figure they would be completely incapable.”
Snowden also thinks this might be why some people in the government have totally freaked out about him. They think he's revealed a lot more than he really has -- and they're afraid about what might be in there. Of course, that may be giving the government too much credit. It often does seem like a simple kneejerk reaction any time anyone leaks anything
that it's the end of the world. But still, it's possible that Snowden has a point here:
Snowden speculates that the government fears that the documents contain material that's deeply damaging—secrets the custodians have yet to find. “I think they think there's a smoking gun in there that would be the death of them all politically,” Snowden says. “The fact that the government's investigation failed—that they don't know what was taken and that they keep throwing out these ridiculous huge numbers—implies to me that somewhere in their damage assessment they must have seen something that was like, ‘Holy shit.’ And they think it's still out there.”
While some of this may just feel like Snowden tweaking the NSA from afar, so far most of the other stuff he's said has been shown to be accurate -- which also probably means that folks in the NSA are going back over the information to see if they can find the breadcrumbs he left for them...