Edward Snowden was suspected of trying to access classified files on the CIA's computers while he was employed by the agency in Geneva between 2007 and 2009, but a disapproving report from a supervisor about his behavior and work habits was not forwarded to the National Security Agency, or NSA, when Snowden became an NSA contractor after leaving the CIA, the New York Times reported.
The supervisor’s note and the agency's suspicions came to light during a federal investigation of Snowden and his role in one of the most significant leaks of sensitive information in U.S. history. Snowden, who quit the CIA in 2009 to become a NSA contractor, now lives in a secret location in Russia, where he was granted political asylum in August after the U.S. charged him with theft of government property and espionage.
“The weakness of the system was if derogatory information came in, he could still keep his security clearance and move to another job, and the information wasn’t passed on,” a Republican lawmaker, who spoke to the Times on condition of anonymity, said.
Charles Sowell, who had been an official until June at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, where he was tasked with improving the security clearance process, told the Times that it is difficult to predict what would have happened if the NSA had been made aware of the agency's suspicions.
“The spectrum of things in your personnel file could be A to Z. There’s a chance that that information could be missed and might not be surfaced,” Sowell said.
However, intelligence and law enforcement officials who spoke to the Times said the CIA’s suspicions could have made a difference in the kind of work Snowden was assigned to when he was working for the NSA as a contractor for Dell Inc. (NASDAQ: DELL) and later with Booz Allen Hamilton Corporation (NYSE: BAH).
Both the agency and the NSA use electronic security clearance systems for all their employees, including contractors, but the complaint from a supervisor over Snowden's behavior and “less serious” suspicions, may have fallen under the radar, law enforcement officials told the Times.
Snowden had told the Guardian in June that he was “disillusioned” by what he witnessed in Geneva and the tactics that the CIA employed to recruit operatives.
“I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good,” he said, adding that it was during his CIA stint in Geneva that he first thought of exposing government secrets. However, he said he was not comfortable with the idea of leaking secrets because disclosures could endanger people as “most of the secrets the CIA has are about people, not machines and systems.”
Snowden added that the election of President Barack Obama in 2008 provided him a reason to hope that there would be “real reforms,” which could render disclosures “unnecessary.”