Snowden downloaded NSA secrets while working for Dell

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Snowden downloaded NSA secrets while working for Dell

Efforts began in April 2012.

Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden began downloading documents describing the US government's electronic spying programs a year earlier than previously reported, and while he was working for computer giant Dell.

US officials and other sources confirmed Snowden downloaded the documents about the eavesdropping programs run by the NSA and Britain's Government Communications Headquarters in April 2012.

He was employed at Dell from 2009 until earlier this year, assigned as a contractor to US National Security Agency facilities in the United States and Japan.

Dell declined to comment on any aspect of Snowden's employment, saying Dell's "customer" - presumably the NSA - had asked Dell not to talk publicly about him.

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

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 US history.

News that Snowden was downloading documents while he worked at Dell could increase pressure on US 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.

Transoceanic cables

Some of the material Snowden downloaded in April 2012 while at Dell related to NSA collection from fibre-optic cables, including transoceanic cables, of large quantities of internet traffic and other communications, the sources said.

Snowden has said he left Dell for a job at Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii specifically to gain access to additional top-secret documents that could be leaked to the media.

Booz Allen Hamilton fired Snowden after he fled to Hong Kong with a trove of secret material. The company has said it is cooperating with a number of inquiries into Snowden's hiring and security lapses.

It is not clear whether Dell has taken similar steps.

Two US officials said the investigations into Snowden's activities confirmed that his downloading of sensitive information began at Dell. 

In February 2010, while working for Dell, Snowden wrote on website Ars Technica that he was bothered by technology companies allegedly giving the US government access to private computer servers.

"It really concerns me how little this sort of corporate behavior bothers those outside of technology circles," Snowden wrote under the screen name "The True HooHA."

"Society really seems to have developed an unquestioning obedience towards spooky types."

In addition to a Justice Department investigation, which has produced criminal charges against Snowden, US intelligence agencies are conducting an extensive inquiry to determine precisely what documents Snowden had access to, what he downloaded and how much damage his actions have caused.

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