The Los Angeles Times reports: [A]nalysts said that Snowden seems to have greatly exaggerated the amount of information available to him and people like him.
Any NSA analyst “at any time can target anyone, any selector, anywhere,” Snowden told the Guardian. “I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal email.”
Robert Deitz, a former top lawyer at the NSA and CIA, called the claim a “complete and utter” falsehood.
“First of all it’s illegal,” he said. “There is enormous oversight. They have keystroke auditing. There are, from time to time, cases in which some analyst is [angry] at his ex-wife and looks at the wrong thing and he is caught and fired,” he said.
NSA analysts who have the authority to query databases of metadata such as phone records — or Internet content, such as emails, videos or chat logs — are subject to stringent internal supervision and also the external oversight of the foreign surveillance court, former NSA officials said.
“It’s actually very difficult to do your job,” said a former senior NSA operator, who also declined be quoted by name because of the sensitive nature of the case. “There are all these checks that don’t allow you to move agilely enough.”
For example, the former operator said, he had go through an arduous process to obtain FISA court permission to gather Internet data on a foreign nuclear weapons proliferator living abroad because some of the data was passing through U.S. wires.
“When he’s saying he could just put any phone number in and look at phone calls, it just doesn’t work that way,” he said. ” It’s absurd. There are technical limits, and then there are people who review these sorts of queries.”
He added, “Let’s say I have your email address. In order to get that approved, you would have to go through a number of wickets. Some technical, some human. An individual analyst can’t just say, ‘Oh, I found this email address or phone number.’ It’s not simple to do it on any level, even for purely foreign purposes.”
The former senior government official said that as a computer expert, Snowden could have gained access on the NSA computer network to some of the documents he purportedly leaked. But other documents he claims that he provided to the Guardian and the Washington Post, such as the FISA order, are in theory supposed to be kept more tightly held, he said.
One of the issues investigators will be examining is “what access was he granted and what access did he gain” himself in order to obtain the documents, the former official said.