Washington, Feb. 14: The National Security Agency has told Congress that it has forced out a civilian employee after a lengthy investigation to “assign accountability” for the disclosure of intelligence secrets by Edward J. Snowden, one of its former contractors.
Two others — identified only as an active-duty military member and another contractor — were “removed from access to NSA information” and facilities last August. But because neither worked directly for the NSA, the agency told the House Judiciary Committee in a letter, any further action would have to be determined by their employers.
The letter, first reported by NBC News, was intended to answer congressional queries about who, beyond Snowden himself, would be held accountable for the security lapses that led to his disclosures.
The answer appeared to suggest that no senior officials of the NSA or its oversight organisation, the office of the director of national intelligence, will be disciplined or fired for what officials have called the largest and most damaging disclosure of classified material in American history.
The director of the NSA, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, is retiring next month after serving far longer than his predecessors. The director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr, who has also been a focus of criticism for failing to police the speed at which security upgrades have been conducted throughout the intelligence community, remains in office.
Both men, and their wives, were guests at the state dinner on Tuesday night for France’s President, François Hollande, which was widely interpreted as an indication they remained in good stead at the White House.
The NSA letter was written by the director of the agency’s legislative affairs office, Ethan L. Bauman, and provided the first public account of how Snowden obtained access to materials for which his own passwords would not give him access.
It said that an “NSA civilian” — reported to be Snowden’s supervisor, though the letter did not say that — gave the 29-year-old contractor his Public Key Infrastructure certificate to gain access to documents on NSA Net, the intelligence agency’s intranet.
Vanee M. Vines, an agency spokeswoman, declined to identify the employee who resigned or to say if he or she had supervised Snowden. The employee presumably was a colleague at the NSA facility in Hawaii where Snowden worked. It is not clear if the contractor and the member of the military mentioned in the letter also worked there.
A Public Key Infrastructure certificate is a first step in enabling access to a restricted computer system.
But gaining access also requires passwords, and the letter from the NSA alleged that Snowden used a bit of digital deception to obtain the password; the civilian NSA employee entered his password on Snowden’s computer, not realising that “Mr Snowden was able to capture the password, allowing him even greater access to classified information.”