Report: US May Take Years to Prevent Another Snowden

Monday, 18 Aug 2014 11:39 AM

By Drew MacKenzie

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U.S. intelligence officials are months or even years away from preventing classified information from being leaked in cases similar to fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden, The Daily Beast reported.

The officials say that due to the vast number of computer systems and networks in the 70 U.S. agencies dealing with secret data, it will be a  long process before they are able to keep an eye on the computers of federal employees with security clearance.

The intelligence officials are almost a year away from being able to monitor public databases for clues that government workers have transgressed federal laws or run into financial hardship, the Beast said.

Due to the delays in mounting a sweeping monitoring service to "watch the watchers," the intelligence agencies are also struggling to keep an eye on its employees. The setbacks resulted in a "second Snowden," who leaked secret files to The Intercept from the National Counterterrorism Center, the Beast said.

Snowden, now living under asylum in Russia, leaked thousands of classified documents from the National Security Agency, putting American intelligence agents in danger while also exposing the mass phone and Internet surveillance by the agency.

A pilot program called "Continuous Evaluation" has been created to keep tabs of social media and message board postings by people who have access to classified documents.
The aim is to curb insider threats, such as the Snowden leaks, the embarrassing WikiLeaks cables disclosure, and the deadly shooting at a Navy Yard by contractor Aaron Alexis, the Beast said.

The intelligence community has taken measures to prevent more Snowden-type cases, including an order that two staffers must be present when sensitive files are accessed in some agencies, and to encourage employees to report suspicious activity by their colleagues.

The National Counterintelligence Executive has also drawn up new guidelines for its Insider Threat Policy. As part of the changes, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence next year plans to start checking the names of 1.5 million employees with top-secret clearances against public and government databases, such as those that show recent arrests, credit scores, and cash transactions of $10,000 or more, according to the Beast.

The agency will eventually monitor the online activity of all 5 million people cleared to see secret U.S. government documents.

"To a large extent, it's not only smart, it's long overdue," said Steven Aftergood, who directs the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy. "The way the existing process works, they look at you every 5 to 10 years ... and then they forget about you until the next review is due years later."

But Aftergood noted there could be some backlash over government officials monitoring online activity outside work, saying, "It needs to be demonstrated in practice that the triggers won't lead to ... a paranoid workplace. They can't push it too far or it will backfire."

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon have pointed out the monitoring could result in a negative effect on the confidentiality of whistleblowers to Congress or inspectors general.

In a letter to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in June, they wrote, "If whistleblower communications with Inspectors General or with Congress are routinely monitored and conveyed to agency leadership, it would defeat the ability to make protected disclosures confidentially."


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