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Before surveillance leaks, CIA supervisor warned Snowden could be a security risk (update)

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Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden

Years before Edward Snowden gained notoriety by leaking classified intel on the US government's broad surveillance programs, a supervisor at the CIA warned that he could be a potential liability. The New York Times reports that in 2009, as Snowden was preparing to depart Geneva after a three-year stint as a CIA technician, a "derogatory report" was added to his personal file. Snowden's supervisor had become unhappy with changes he'd seen in Snowden's behavior and work, but there was another, more startling allegation in the report — one that ultimately could have prevented Snowden from becoming a thorn in the government's side. The CIA believed Snowden had tried to access classified data that he wasn't authorized to view. Based on this suspicion, the agency decided to send Snowden packing.

A warning that fell on deaf ears

Yet somehow this warning never made its way to the NSA, nor either company that employed Snowden as a contractor there. Four years later, Snowden would take advantage of his position at Booz Allen Hamilton to leak thousands of classified documents revealing the massive scope of US surveillance at home and abroad. Attempting to explain the blunder, intelligence officials have told the Times that systems used by the CIA and NSA to track security clearances monitor only "major infractions," not complaints about behavior or cautionary notes.

At least, that's the way things used to be. In the aftermath of Snowden's unprecedented leaks, those communication lines have opened up and any potential warnings regarding employees — however minor — are now said to be shared within the intelligence community. If the NSA had been aware of Snowden's previous snooping, it may not have necessarily doomed his career, but he would likely have faced greater scrutiny from superiors, and his access to sensitive data may have been restricted significantly.

Update: The CIA has denied part of the New York Times report. "The CIA did not file any report on Snowden indicating that it suspected he was trying to break into classified computer files to which he did not have authorized access while he was employed at the CIA, nor was he returned home from an overseas assignment because of such concerns," a spokesman wrote.

According to the Times, the agency didn't dispute that Snowden's supervisor had left a derogatory report. The newspaper confirmed the existence of that report with six separate sources before publication.