Edward Snowden was believed to have been collecting the classified government documents that he leaked to the press for no more than three months, during his limited time at Booz Allen Hamilton — but it now appears that Snowden may have been gathering information for over a year, dating back to April of 2012. Reuters reports that during the final year of his tenure as an NSA contractor for Dell, where Snowden reportedly worked from 2009 to 2012, Snowden began downloading documents relating to broad surveillance activities by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Government Communications Headquarters, Britain's intelligence agency.
Dell appears to be where the collection started
Snowden apparently left behind traces of his access when collecting the documents from Dell, allowing officials to determine when they were downloaded. Reuters, reporting on information from anonymous US officials, says that the files contained information on how the NSA collected data from the fiber optic cables that carry intercontinental internet traffic. Snowden's final year at Dell appears to be the earliest that his collecting of classified data began, however. Though he'd worked for multiple contractors, Reuters is told that he hadn't gathered any documents prior to working for Dell.
Contractors' access to classified government documents has been a continued concern since Snowden's leaks began rolling out back in June. Many in the government are now moving to cut down on outside contractors or to at least limit what they can access. According to Reuters, NSA director General Keith Alexander is already taking drastic steps to do just that: last week he said that he'll be eliminating nearly 90 percent of the agency's around 1,000 system administrator positions — the very job that gave Snowden such broad access to classified information.