NSA chief on Snowden: We ‘trusted a person who we should not have’

Former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden was able to obtain and leak out millions of documents about the spy agency because of misplaced trust, agency chief Gen. Keith Alexander said on Thursday.

“Bottom line is we trusted a person who we should not have trusted,” he told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

While working for the agency in Hawaii, Snowden was responsible for moving data from one system to another. He reportedly used widely available and relatively low-tech “web crawler” software to skim off documents about the government surveillance programs.

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“At times he would take that data off in a way that couldn’t be seen by our sensors by the action that he took,” Alexander said.

Documents leaked by Snowden have led to a series of reports and caused outrage over the NSA’s broad surveillance programs both within the U.S. and around the globe.

Since the leaks began last summer, Alexander said on Thursday that his agency has “come up with about 40 different internal fixes that will help us fix this whole network and make it even more secure.” Among those are measures to perform more frequent and random checks of agency workers, similar to suggestions a White House review group made last year.

“I think it’s depressing that we have to look at defending our network from those who sit within it that we have trusted. But that’s where we are and that’s what we have to do and that’s what we’re doing today,” Alexander said.

The Obama administration is currently in the midst of broader reforms to the NSA’s programs, including an effort to shift the storage of bulk records about people’s phone calls out of the agency’s hands.

Civil liberties groups have cheered Snowden, whom they call a whistle-blower.

Supporters of the spy agency’s efforts, however, say that the revelations have hurt U.S. national security and made it easier for terrorists to learn about intelligence methods.

“He’s a traitor who stole nearly two million documents, the vast majority of which have nothing to do with activities of the NSA,” Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.), the top Republican on the Armed Services panel, said on Thursday. “In the process he’s potentially given our enemies and also giving Russia and China access to some of our military’s most closely guarded secrets.”

“These are the hallmarks of a coward, not a hero, and it’s time the American people fully understand the damage that Snowden has done to our national security.”