In early May 2013, employees of the National Security Agency knew something big was up. Rumors began flying around the agency that there had been a massive security leak. Although few of NSA’s civilian and military rank and file knew the extent of the compromise, NSA director General Keith Alexander, his closest aides, and NSA’s internal security “Q Group” knew the ramifications about what was known to them about the leak.
Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman had received a number of classified documents from a source in Hawaii. After Gellman shared the documents with his editors at the Post, the newspaper, rather than treating the documents and details about their release as a protected First Amendment issue, decided to contact NSA. Senior Washington Post officials described to NSA the nature of the documents and details about what they contained.
According to WMR’s sources at NSA, the revelations by the Post sent the NSA into a frenzy of counter-intelligence activity. The NSA also alerted the FBI, which also mobilized its resources to find the leaker.
The actual source of the leak, Honolulu-based Booz Allen Hamilton contractor Ed Snowden, never planned on fleeing the United States to escape what would have been a certain arrest and incarceration. However, even off in Hawaii, the NSA Regional Security Operations Center in Kunia on Oahu was made aware of the fact that NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland was putting out the word that there had been a major leak of classified information and that “all hands” should stand by for the inevitable fallout.
Upon hearing of the compromise of the leak by the Post to NSA, Snowden reasoned that it would not be long before he would receive the dreaded “knock on the door.” It is believed by some within NSA that Snowden never intended to leak the entire tranche of documents at one time to the media, but, when it was apparent that NSA security and the FBI were on the case, Snowden quickly downloaded tens of thousands of pages of classified documents to a few high-capacity thumb drives, booked at flight on Cathay Pacific, and flew off to Hong Kong on May 20. As part of the disinformation campaign against Snowden, the media began circulating stories that Snowden abandoned his girlfriend without notice and left boxes filled with items in his garage.
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