Cassandra of the Week: Mr. [Redacted] on the System Administrator Threat

February 14, 2014

This is the first installment of our (W)ARCHIVES series, which presents something from the past – a declassified report, military document, memo, article, or photo – and considers it in the context of important contemporary issues.


In 1996, a prescient member of the NSA’s Threat Analysis Division predicted Edward Snowden.  Well, not by name, but in a now declassified article in one of NSA’s in-house journal Mr. [Redacted], as we shall call him, noted that in an era of increasing network connectivity, system administrators have the keys to the kingdom and that ought to worry us.  Indeed, he wrote, “access to electronic versions of classified documents is out of control” (emphasis in original) and that at least two significant security events had already taken place at Regional SIGINT Operations Centers, like the one from which Snowden vanished in 2012.  He predicted, too, that just as US Government communicators, with their access to crypto keys had long been lucrative targets of foreign intelligence services, so, too, would system administrators “because of their special access.”

Though there has been speculation in the blogosphere, so far there is no evidence that Edward Snowden was recruited by a foreign intelligence service, though it’s certainly not out of the question.  However, in broad strokes Mr. [Redacted], was right to issue his warning.  If we knew who he was, we’d buy him a drink, but he’d probably take little comfort in having been correct.

Read the full document here with only modest redactions.


Mark Stout is a Senior Editor at War on the Rocks. He is the Director of the MA Program in Global Security Studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Arts and Sciences in Washington, D.C.


Photo credit: Greg Goebel


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