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Snowden seized on lapses, says spy chief

Washington, Feb. 12: The director of national intelligence acknowledged yesterday that nearly a year after the contractor Edward J. Snowden “scraped” highly classified documents from the National Security Agency’s networks, the technology was not yet fully in place to prevent another insider from stealing top-secret data on a similarly large scale.

The director, James R. Clapper Jr, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Snowden had taken advantage of a “perfect storm” of security lapses. He also suggested that as a highly trained systems administrator working for Booz Allen Hamilton, which provides computer services to the agency, Snowden knew how to evade the protections in place.

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Clapper said. “And he was pretty skilled at staying below the radar, so what he was doing wasn’t visible.”

But Clapper confirmed the outlines of a New York Times report that the former NSA contractor had used a web crawler, a commonly available piece of software, to sweep up a huge trove of documents.

Clapper also said, for the first time, that some of the information Snowden is believed to possess could expose the identities of undercover American operatives as well as foreigners who have been recruited by US spy agencies.

The information Snowden has released so far through several newspapers and a new digital news organisation that began publishing on Monday has not revealed the names of agents or operatives, and it is unclear how much of that information he took with him when he fled the US. He is now in Russia.

Under questioning, Clapper made clear that while the NSA has installed security upgrades, not all locations have the software and warning systems that could detect mass downloads of information. He did not address why the agency was not able to detect the Web crawler, which indexed and copied all the data in its path.

 
 
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