The supervisor of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden likely formally signed off on the network operations employee's personal trip to Hong Kong even though the nation has been linked to cyber espionage and Snowden’s high-level security clearances granted him access to American secrets.
Intelligence community employees must report foreign travel in advance, which is a long-time policy, a U.S. government official told Nextgov on Tuesday. A former NSA information technology manager said the supervisor would not have scrutinized the notice unless the employee had raised eyebrows in the past. "If somebody told me, 'I'm going to take a big trip to the Far East,' I probably wouldn't think that was suspicious," said the former NSA official who was not authorized to discuss the Snowden situation.
The since-fired Booz Allen Hamilton contractor posted to an NSA Hawaii office purportedly left for Hong Kong in May, under the ruse of seeking epilepsy treatment. After traveling to Hong Kong, Snowden revealed himself as the leaker who had exposed the agency's surveillance techniques through international media.
It is unclear whether the supervisor responsible for approving foreign travel would have been a Booz Allen or government employee. The U.S. official said the intelligence community is not commenting on such personnel issues; the matter is under investigation. Booz Allen officials also declined to comment on the subject of oversight.
Britain's Guardian, the Washington Post and Germany's Der Spiegel continue to release files Snowden smuggled out about NSA operations involving the digital tracking of U.S. adversaries and allies, including the European Union. Meanwhile, Snowden apparently remains stuck in a Russian transit terminal seeking asylum in various countries that so far have denied him protection from extradition to the United States, where he faces espionage charges.