Report: Snowden beat NSA with cheap software

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden used cheap and widely available software to gain access to top-secret documents, a senior intelligence official told The New York Times.

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“We do not believe this was an individual sitting at a machine and downloading this much material in sequence,” the official said, according to the Times, adding that the process was “quite automated.”

The newspaper reports that the findings are striking because the NSA is tasked with protecting the nation’s most sensitive military and intelligence systems from sophisticated cyberattacks, noting investigators say Snowden’s “insider attack” with "web crawler" software designed to search, index and back up websites should have been easily detected.

Last week, the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee said Snowden will answer its questions as part of an inquiry into government surveillance.

The committee has been examining U.S. government surveillance, sparked by Snowden's leaked information about the NSA.

In a statement on Friday, committee member Jan Phillip Albrecht — who represents Germany's Greens party and has been a vocal critic of U.S. surveillance of European citizens — said Snowden's input would be "a significant and positive development" in the European Parliament's inquiry into government surveillance.

"To conclude the inquiry without testimony from its key witness would render the process clearly incomplete," he said, calling on skeptical committee members to "drop their resistance."

On Tuesday, thousands of websites will take a stand against government surveillance by plastering protests across their home pages.

Tech companies and civil liberties organizations are hoping the demonstration, called The Day We Fight Back, will boost support for the USA Freedom Act, which would end or curtail many of the most controversial surveillance programs at the National Security Agency and elsewhere.

“The idea is to really harness the outrage of the Internet community in speaking out in one big voice on Feb. 11,” said Rainey Reitman, the director of activism at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The protest comes nearly a month after President Obama announced a handful of changes to the embattled spy agency’s most controversial practices. Critics said the changes weren’t nearly enough.

— Kate Tummarello and Julian Hattem contributed to this report.