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After NSA Leaks, Senators Question Snowden Vetting, Secret Court

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
“I want to know more about this man, but what I’ve learned so far is troubling,” Durbin said of Snowden.

As lawmakers began to explore ways to respond to the public disclosure of a pair of top-secret National Security Agency operations, the question also arose as to why the leaker had a security clearance in the first place.

Edward Snowden was fired by the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton as of Monday after revealing through The Guardian newspaper that he was the source of leaks that led to the disclosure of NSA surveillance programs that involved the bulk collection of phone records and Internet traffic.

“Snowden, who had a salary at the rate of $122,000, was terminated June 10, 2013, for violations of the firm’s code of ethics and firm policy,” the company said. “News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm.”

Senators seemed taken aback that the 29-year-old contractor had access to information about the NSA programs.

“I’m just stunned that an individual who did not even graduate with a high-school diploma, who did not successfully complete his military service, and who is only age 29, had access to some of the most highly classified information in our government. That’s astonishing to me, and it suggests real problems with the vetting,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “Clearly the rules are not being applied well where they need to be more strict. It’s also troubling to me when I have heard that his salary was something like $200,000 for a ... high-school dropout who had little maturity, had not successfully completed anything he’d undertaken, whether it was high school, community college or the Army.”

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, who also serves as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, wants to know more about Snowden’s vetting.

“I look at this man and say, all right, who made that decision. Was that a Booz Allen decision? Was that an NSA decision? What was the standard used?” the Illinois Democrat said, adding that there “definitely” needs to be more scrutiny given to the process through which the government grants security clearances. “I want to know more about this man, but what I’ve learned so far is troubling.”

Durbin is among the senators who have supported past efforts to expand public disclosure about the NSA programs and to narrow the scope of the operations.

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