Before becoming the National Security Agency’s enemy number one, former government contractor Edward Snowden tried to help the agency’s operations become more secure, according to an interview with a former colleague.
Forbes reported in December that Snowden “impressed NSA officials” when he developed a “backup system that the agency had widely implemented in its code breaking operations” and “frequently” reported security issues in NSA software, according to claims made by an unnamed former co-worker.
Many of the software issues Snowden discovered during his time as a NSA contractor “were never patched,” Forbes’ Andy Greenberg wrote.
The unidentified co-worker called Snowden “a genius among geniuses” who occasionally left anonymous gifts on the desks of colleagues and was frequently seen carrying a Rubik’s cube as he walked down the halls of the NSA.
Snowden’s skills were so impressive that the NSA once offered him the opportunity to work among their elite hackers in the agency’s secret Tailored Access Operations group. Snowden turned down the offer and instead decided to work for contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, where he was last employed before turning whistleblower.
The anonymous co-worker told Forbes that Snowden did not “dupe” his colleagues into handing over passwords so that he could collect classified information on NSA surveillance techniques, as had been reported in the media since the documents were made public in June.
“I don’t agree with his methods,” the colleague told Forbes, “but I understand why he did it.”
The colleague said Snowden isn’t a hero, “but he’s sure as hell no traitor.”
Forbes said they corroborated the former colleague’s assertions with Snowden’s ACLU lawyer Ben Wizner. The NSA declined to comment to Forbes, citing the ongoing investigation into the Snowden leaks.