Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Rise of the low-level contractor with high-level access


11 June 2013 Last updated at 12:03 ET

Rise of the low-level contractor with high-level access

By Tara McKelveyBBC News Magazine

Man in front of computer screens - posed photo

Intelligence agencies collect reams of personal data from our everyday
interactions. And as the amount of data increases, so has the number of
people who work with this sensitive information. Who are they?

Edward Snowden says he is just an average guy.

"I'm no different from anybody else," says Snowden, an infrastructure
analyst who worked for the US consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. "I don't
have special skills."

Just an ordinary computer guy, who worked in unusual offices that tapped
into data from phone calls, emails, status updates and browsing histories of
those who roused suspicion.

Snowden's decision to reveal classified information puts him in an exclusive
club. Another member, Pte Bradley Manning, is facing a military trial. Both
could be sent to prison for the rest of their lives.

Booz Allen and its biggest client

. Private company that specialises in managing large
amounts of collected data

. Biggest customer is US government

. Headquarters in Virginia - about 13 miles from
Washington DC

. Almost 25,000 staff - 76% have government security
clearances, of which 49% are Top Secret or higher,
2469-4498-4FCC-AE9A-081E27ABECE2/Booz-Allen-FY12-annual-report.pdf> notes
its 2012 annual report

. James Clapper, director of national intelligence
(DNI), is ex-Booz Allen executive

. Vice-chairman Mike McConnell was George W Bush's DNI

et-workforce/?mod=wsj_streaming_stream> More on its workforce and clients


Their actions shed light on the new world of espionage. As data becomes
digitized, more people have access to it.

"Documents don't have to be stored in a filing cabinet," says Amie
Stepanovich of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

"They can be stored on a government server that can be accessed throughout
the world."

So in an age of metadata and cloud computing, how do officials make sure
that sensitive information does not fall into the wrong hands?

Snowden had access to classified information because of his security

"Start Quote

If a guy pretty low on the food chain knows this, it tells you how big the
food chain is"

Thomas Donnelly

A clearance does not give contractors carte blanche.
ee06f8f8_story.html> Officials say, for example, that theoretically Snowden
should not have had been able to see the leaked document, an order from the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Yet he could see a lot.

And he is in good company. More than a million contractors have access to
classified information, says Angela Canterbury of the Project on Government

As one analyst says, "This is Washington DC. You can't swing a dead cat
without hitting someone with a security clearance. I mean - everyone's got

The fact that Snowden is undistinguished is reassuring, says the American
Enterprise Institute's Thomas Donnelly.

Who is Edward Snowden?

Edward Snowden

. Age 29, grew up in North Carolina

. Joined army reserves in 2004, discharged four months
ces> says the Guardian

. First job at National Security Agency was as security

. Worked on IT security at the CIA

. Left CIA in 2009 for contract work at NSA for various
firms including Booz Allen

. Called himself Verax, Latin for "speaking the truth",
b54-d14c-11e2-9f1a-1a7cdee20287_story.html> exchanges with the Washington

"It suggests that what he knows isn't as important as advertised. If a guy
pretty low on the food chain knows this, it tells you how big the food chain

And analysts have worked with contractors such as Snowden - and large data
sets - for years.

"I could be wrong - maybe I should watch more Fox News - but I haven't seen
anything that is fundamentally different than what we have been doing since
9/11," says Doug Brooks, president emeritus of International Peace
Operations Association, which represents security firms.

Former CIA technology officer Gene Poteat agrees with Snowden's assessment
that he is nothing special.

"He's a loser," Poteat says. As a former federal employee, he has a low
opinion of those who reveal state secrets.

The problem lies not with Snowden, he says, but with the officials who
granted him access.

"I think the government shares some responsibility for what happened.

"They should have known better."

What could the NSA possibly access?

<http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-22839609> MORE ON PRISM AND PRIVACY

Man on phone

<http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-22808004> Phone calls

. Where calls are made

. Call duration

. Phone numbers of both parties

. But not content of the call

. Unclear if text messages are included

Blackberry user


. Most providers require users to sign up with name,
address, birth date

. Inbox and outbox content

. Details of contacts

. Email threads and chat conversations

. IP addresses


Social media

. Most providers require users to sign up with name,
address, birth date and gender

. Updates, photos and chat conversations

. Details of contacts

. Location information if mobile device used

People are divided about the role of contractors - and about Snowden. Some
call him a hero. Others vilify him.

Private Bradley Manning and Wikileaks

Bradley Manning's cuffed hands

. Age 25, grew up in Oklahoma

. Intelligence analyst in the US Army with access to
highly sensitive information

. Was relatively low-ranking and on meagre wage

. Pleaded guilty to leaking sensitive documents and
other files from military servers

. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-22684769>
Court martial opened last week

Yet they agree on one thing. Espionage now means people like him are part of
the system. Lots of people.

"As you get more data, you need more people to manage it," says Christopher
Soghoian, a technologist for the ACLU.

"You need administrators to help people get access to the data. There's not
really any way to protect yourself from an insider."

Donnelly agrees - and is not bothered.

"To some degree this is going to be the cost of doing business in data

"They're not giving away the crown jewels of the intelligence agencies.
These leaks are painful but not devastating."

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