Snowden downloaded NSA secrets while working for Dell, sources say

2013-08-15T221430Z_1_CBRE97E1OXZ00_RTROPTP_2_USA-SECURITY-VENEZUELABy Mark Hosenball

Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden began downloading documents describing the U.S. government’s electronic spying programs while he was working for Dell Inc in April 2012, almost a year earlier than previously reported, according to U.S. officials and other sources familiar with the matter.

Snowden, who was granted a year’s asylum by Russia on August 1, worked for Dell from 2009 until earlier this year, assigned as a contractor to U.S. National Security Agency facilities in the United States and Japan.

Snowden downloaded information while employed by Dell about eavesdropping programs run by the NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, and left an electronic footprint indicating when he accessed the documents, said the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.

David Frink, a spokesman for Round Rock, Texas-based Dell, declined to comment on any aspect of Snowden’s employment with the company, saying Dell’s “customer” – presumably the NSA – had asked Dell not to talk publicly about him.

Since Snowden disclosed documents on previously secret U.S. internet and phone surveillance programs in June, his three-month tenure with U.S. contractor Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp starting in late March of this year has been the focus of considerable attention. His time at Dell has received little attention.

Lawmakers have questioned how a relatively low-level systems administrator was able to gain access to so many top-secret documents without raising red flags. Some lawmakers have called the leaks one of the worst security breaches in U.S. history.

News that Snowden was downloading documents while he worked at Dell could increase pressure on U.S. intelligence agencies to tighten security protocols to prevent future leaks. The NSA has said it would tighten access to classified material and put in place stricter controls for accessing and downloading such information.

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