The NSA Will Try the Buddy System

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 18 2013 5:52 PM

How the NSA Plans to Prevent the Next Edward Snowden

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A woman walks past a banner displayed in support of former US spy Edward Snowden in Hong Kong on June 18, 2013

Photo by Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

During Tuesday's House hearing on the NSA's sweeping surveilance program, National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander was asked what his agency is doing to prevent the next Edward Snowden. Alexander's answer: The buddy system.

"Working with the director of national intelligence what we’re doing is working to come up with a two-person rule and oversight for those and ensure we have a way of blocking people from taking information out of our system," Alexander told Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger. Forbes' Andy Greenberg does his best to translate:

That "two-person rule," it would seem, will be something similar to the one implemented in some cases by the military after Army private Bradley Manning was able to write hundreds of thousands of secret files to CDs and leak them to WikiLeaks. The rule required that anyone copying data from a secure network onto portable storage media does so with a second person who ensures he or she isn’t also collecting unauthorized data.
It may come as a surprise that the NSA doesn’t already have that rule in place, especially for young outside contractor employees like Snowden. But Alexander emphasized that Snowden was one of close to a thousand systems administrator–mostly outside contractors–who may have had the ability to set privileges and audit conditions on networks.
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For posterity's sake, here was Ruppersberger's question, which goes to show exactly how NSA-friendly the day's hearing was (emphasis added): "What system are you or the director of national intelligence administration putting into place to make sure that if another person were to turn against his or her country we would have an alarm system that would not put us in this position?"

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City.