NSA plans to replace Edward Snowden with a computer

In an effort to curb future Snowden-style leaks, the NSA will replace 90 percent of its systems administrators with computers.


Joe Kloc

Internet Culture

Published Aug 9, 2013   Updated Jun 1, 2021, 9:31 am CDT

Two months after former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked a trove of top secret surveillance documents, the agency has announced that it will replace 90 percent of its systems administrators with computers.

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Before releasing a collection of PowerPoint slides detailing the NSA’s domestic and international spying activities, Snowden, as a contractor, had the security clearance of a systems administrator, which gave him access to many of the agency’s highly guarded secrets.

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The documents taken by Snowden implicated the NSA in collecting Americans’ emails, photos, videos, phone calls, and chats in real time and have since created a public relations nightmare for the agency. Many lawmakers have spoken out against the NSA’s activities. And last month, a bill to defund portions of the agency’s phone surveillance program only narrowly failed in Congress.

Currently, the NSA has about 1,000 systems administrators with Snowden’s level of access.

According to RT, NSA director Keith Alexander made the announcement on Thursday, at a security conference in New York. “What we’re in the process of doing–not fast enough–is reducing our systems administrators by about 90 per cent,” he said. “We’ve put people in the loop of transferring data, securing networks and doing things that machines are probably better at doing.”

For the 100 or so systems administrators that will remain at the agency, Alexander will implement what is called the “two-man” system, which will require a second analyst to be present when classified information is copied from the NSA’s servers.

Ultimately, Alexander admitted that human beings would still need to be trusted with the agency’s most private information, and expressed the same concerns many Americans have about the NSA’s wide-reaching surveillance operations. 

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“At the end of the day it’s about people and trust,” Alexander said. “If they misuse that trust they can cause huge damage.” 

Photo by Arctic Wolves/Flickr

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*First Published: Aug 9, 2013, 12:27 pm CDT