Though the NSA has tried to paint Edward Snowden as an unqualified and unscrupulous rogue, a new report suggests that he may have only gained access to the sensitive documents he leaked earlier this year because he was anything but. Speaking with Forbes, an alleged NSA employee who knew him says that co-workers viewed Snowden as both smart and trustworthy. "That kid was a genius among geniuses," the anonymous NSA employee tells Forbes. "NSA is full of smart people, but anybody who sat in a meeting with Ed will tell you he was in a class of his own … I've never seen anything like it."
"[Snowden] was in a class of his own."
The employee, whose comments Forbes reportedly confirmed with Snowden's ACLU lawyer, says that Snowden impressed NSA officials by frequently reporting security vulnerabilities and by developing what has now become a widely used backup system. At one point, Snowden was reportedly even offered a position on the NSA's Tailored Access Operations group — a secret team of highly skilled hackers — but ultimately turned the job down. Nonetheless, Forbes reports that Snowden's technical abilities were enough to land him access to nearly any NSA data he could want, even as a contractor.
While it wasn't until spring this year that Snowden's leaked NSA documents came out, he reportedly voiced his concerns over the agency's activities before then — albeit much more quietly. Forbes reports that Snowden used to wear a sweatshirt to work that satirized the agency's activities: sold by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the sweatshirt's back depicted a parody NSA logo that replaced the American shield with an AT&T data box that had wires spilling out of it and into the talons of an eagle. Forbes also reports that Snowden kept a copy of the Constitution at his desk so that he could cite it when arguing against activities he thought might violate US law.
Regardless of what co-workers used to think of Snowden, the NSA's public line has been to criticize his activities ever since he was identified as the source of the leaks. In an interview last night, NSA agents called his work behavior "strange" and noted that he was a high school dropout.
Even so, Snowden's abilities were reportedly enough to make up for these smaller signs of resistance — and his lack of security clearances. The alleged NSA employee suggests to Forbes that Snowden was likely granted access to files beyond his security clearance simply because he could get work done that others couldn't: "If you had a guy who could do things nobody else could, and the only problem was that his badge was green instead of blue, what would you do?"