With a growing awareness of NSA wrongdoing eating at him like moral acid, Edward Snowden became a whistleblower-in-waiting. All he needed was to complete his understanding of what the NSA was doing and how it was doing it. To do that, he needed to see the agency’s raw surveillance repositories. With this goal in mind, he turned down a job offer to become an NSA government employee because, he explained later, the security clearance NSA offered him would not have allowed the file access he needed. Instead, in the spring of 2012 he took a job at Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH) and moved out of the “Tunnel” into BAH’s thirtieth-floor office in the Makai Tower in downtown Honolulu.
Snowden soon developed a reputation at BAH as a nonconformist who wore a hoodie around the posh office and kept a copy of the U.S. Constitution on his desk. His NSA assignments came with the agency’s highest clearance, allowing him entrée to NSA’s inner snoop-sanctum, where its raw-surveillance data was stored. Once there, Snowden discovered how the NSA was monitoring the entire U.S. telecommunications system, and how it was working closely with British intelligence. Most important, his clearance was so special that he could enter and leave NSA’s inner sanctum without leaving an electronic footprint. That “ghost user” privilege is one reason why the NSA is finding it difficult to know exactly which files Snowden downloaded.
“I realized they were building a system whose goal was the elimination of all privacy, globally,” Snowden said later. “To make it so that no one could communicate electronically without the NSA being able to collect, store, and analyze the communication.”
The last straw fell into place.