Insider Threat Special Report: Edward Snowden’s Access to Secrets

By Steven Bay

Steven Bay left Booz Allen Hamilton earlier this year after nine years with the management consulting firm.  He joined BAH in 2007 to work on a contract for the National Security Agency, and in 2011 was transferred to Hawaii to run its local NSA team.  Bay started his career in the Air Force as a Persian Farsi linguist.  He was stationed at Ft. Meade, Maryland where he translated Persian documents and later became a digital network intelligence analyst.  He has launched a cyber consulting firm at

Among the least understood and considered elements of the Edward Snowden saga are the details around what his job was and what data he could actually access.  Did Snowden ever access or use Prism data?  Did he understand it and its protections?  Did he have long-term access to the signals intelligence (SIGINT) system thereby allowing him to have a thorough understanding of what the National Security Agency (NSA) was doing and how it was doing it?

Snowden started at NSA in 2009.  For all but one and a half months of his NSA career, he was aligned with the Technology Services Directorate supporting an IT contract. His job as systems administrator meant he would have had potential access to at least some of the workstations, servers, and network devices used by the Agency.  This also provided him access to network share drives and the backend of some databases.  While this certainly granted Snowden access to highly sensitive and critical data, it did not grant him access to raw SIGINT. 

“The Cipher Brief has become the most popular outlet for former intelligence officers; no media outlet is even a close second to The Cipher Brief in terms of the number of articles published by formers.” —Sept. 2018, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 62

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