“We’re deeply concerned,” said one senior intelligence official, who, like others interviewed for this article, was not authorized to speak on the record. “The more that this gets made public, the more capability we lose.”
Snowden was able to range across hundreds of thousands of pages of documents on NSA networks, said one former official briefed on the issue. Another intelligence official cautioned that, at this point in the investigation, he did not appear to have obtained “collected data,” or the raw intelligence that results from hacking and other collection operations.
“He got a lot,” the official continued, but it was “not even close to the lion’s share” of what the NSA is engaged in. Still, the official said, harm to the efforts “is a concern.”
Snowden, 30, burst into global prominence a month ago, when he revealed he had passed top-
secret documents to The Washington Post and British newspaper the Guardian about classified U.S. surveillance programs. News reports based on the documents highlighted the U.S. government’s reach into the phone and Internet records of foreigners and ordinary Americans.
Snowden has told journalists that he has no desire to publicize information that describes the technical specifications or blueprints for how the NSA has constructed its eavesdropping network. At the same time, the former contractor has archived encrypted documents with people around the world, according to Glenn Greenwald, a journalist at the Guardian.
Greenwald told the online Daily Beast that “if anything happens” to Snowden, “the stories will inevitably be published.”
That has prompted concerns among U.S. officials that the documents are or could soon be outside of Snowden’s control.
It is not clear how many documents Snowden has given to others or whether those who have received the documents have the same set. Greenwald has said he has thousands of documents, but the Guardian has withheld “the majority of things that he gave us pursuant not only to his own instruction, but to our duty as journalists.” The Post has not said how many documents it has.
Investigators have largely determined what Snowden, who most recently worked at an NSA network operations center in Hawaii, was able to review within the agency’s systems. Their focus is determining which files he might have taken.