Nearly 5 million Americans hold one of three kinds of security clearances, with 1.5 million holding the highest level of top secret access to the most sensitive information, which, if revealed, could cause serious damage to national security.
According to Politico
, the sheer number of clearance holders with access to classified information indicates just how difficult it can be to stop determined leakers like Edward Snowden, whose disclosure to the media of a government telephone and email data collection program has raised concerns about the screening process for clearances.
"When you have a national security apparatus that's this comprehensive and wide-ranging … you're going to need a lot of manpower," Jack Lerner, a digital privacy and national security expert at the University of Southern California's Gould School of Law, told Politico. "They have ways of determining whether or not someone is trustworthy. And if you have 4.9 million people that you're making a call on, you're going to get it wrong once or twice."
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It's still not known what the specific level of clearance was that Snowden had in his job with government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. But given the potential damage that has been done by his release of classified information, some lawmakers say the episode is indicative of a fundamental problem with the clearance system.
"I'm just stunned that an individual who did not even graduate with a high school diploma, who did not successfully complete his military service, and who is only age 29, had access to some of the most highly classified information in our government," Sen. Susan Collins, the Republican from Maine, told Roll Call
"Clearly the rules are not being applied well where they need to be more strict. It's also troubling to me when I have heard that his salary was something like $200,000 for a ... high school dropout who had little maturity, had not successfully completed anything he'd undertaken, whether it was high school, community college, or the Army."
Snowden had told The Guardian newspaper in London that he had "a very comfortable life" that included "a salary of roughly 200,000."
However, Booz Allen released a statement Tuesday saying Snowden's salary was $122,000.
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