In an embarrassing and potentially damaging turn, the National Security Administration (NSA) may not be able to determine the extent of information taken or compromised by U.S. computer specialist Edward Snowden.
Charged with espionage and theft of government property, Snowden has been characterized as both a criminal and a hero for disclosing the details of secret large-scale surveillance programs undertaken by the United States and the United Kingdom. Since the disclosure, controversy over the secret programs has erupted both stateside and in Europe.
Originally taking refuge in Hong Kong, Snowden has now been granted temporary asylum in Russia, much to the consternation of the U.S. government.
The revelation that Snowden may have effectively covered his electronic trail flies in the face of assertions made by the U.S. government that security and other high-level data files are well-protected and monitored. In erasing his trail, Snowden could have taken steps that include:
Exploiting his position as a system administrator to physically move files out of secure areas, or reviewing files that interested him without leaving a trace
Deleting logs that would have revealed the extent of the investigation he undertook
Navigating around security systems designed to detect and track attempts by hackers to infiltrate sensitive data networks
According to the Associated Press, the capability of Snowden to bypass U.S. security monitors could make him popular with foreign governments eager to access sensitive U.S. security information.
Criminal or whistleblower? The full story of Edward Snowden and the changes and charges wrought by his disclosure of the secret undertakings of the U.S government remains to be told.