WASHINGTON — Just as Edward J. Snowden was preparing to leave Geneva and a job as a C.I.A. technician in 2009, his supervisor wrote a derogatory report in his personnel file, noting a distinct change in the young man’s behavior and work habits, as well as a troubling suspicion.
The C.I.A. suspected that Mr. Snowden was trying to break into classified computer files to which he was not authorized to have access, and decided to send him home, according to two senior American officials.
But the red flags went unheeded. Mr. Snowden left the C.I.A. to become a contractor for the National Security Agency, and four years later he leaked thousands of classified documents. The supervisor’s cautionary note and the C.I.A.’s suspicions apparently were not forwarded to the N.S.A. or its contractors, and surfaced only after federal investigators began scrutinizing Mr. Snowden’s record once the documents began spilling out, intelligence and law enforcement officials said.
“It slipped through the cracks,” one veteran law enforcement official said of the report.
Spokesmen for the C.I.A., N.S.A. and F.B.I. all declined to comment on the precise nature of the warning and why it was not forwarded, citing the investigation into Mr. Snowden’s activities.
Half a dozen law enforcement, intelligence and Congressional officials with direct knowledge of the supervisor’s report were contacted for this article. All of the officials agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing criminal investigation.
In hindsight, officials said, the report by the C.I.A. supervisor and the agency’s suspicions might have been the first serious warnings of the disclosures to come, and the biggest missed opportunity to review Mr. Snowden’s top-secret clearance or at least put his future work at the N.S.A. under much greater scrutiny.
“The weakness of the system was if derogatory information came in, he could still keep his security clearance and move to another job, and the information wasn’t passed on,” said a Republican lawmaker who has been briefed on Mr. Snowden’s activities.
Mr. Snowden now lives in Moscow, where he surfaced this week for the first time since receiving temporary asylum from the Russian government over the summer. On Wednesday night, he met with four American whistle-blowers who have championed his case in the United States and who presented him with an award they said was given annually by a group of retired C.I.A. officers to members of the intelligence community “who exhibit integrity in intelligence.”
In a television interview, one member of the group, Jesselyn Radack, a former Justice Department official, said that Mr. Snowden “looked great.”
“He seemed very centered and brilliant,” Ms. Radack said. “Smart, funny, very engaged. I thought he looked very well.”
Another of the whistle-blowers, Coleen Rowley, a former F.B.I. agent who testified before the Senate about missteps in the agency’s investigation of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said, “We talked about prior examples of great people in history that had themselves been under this kind of pressure, and he’s remarkably centered.”
On Thursday, Mr. Snowden’s father, Lon, arrived in Moscow to see his son after assurances from Mr. Snowden’s legal aide that there would be “no complications” in organizing a meeting with his father. But in a telephone interview later in the day, Lon Snowden said he had not yet been able to meet with his son.
“I can’t tell you the where and the when,” the elder Mr. Snowden said. “I have no idea. I hope something happens.”
It is difficult to tell what would have happened had N.S.A. supervisors been made aware of the warning the C.I.A. issued Mr. Snowden in what is called a “derog” in federal personnel policy parlance.
“The spectrum of things in your personnel file could be A to Z,” said Charles B. Sowell, who until June was a top official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence working on improving the security clearance process. “There’s a chance that that information could be missed and might not be surfaced.”
Mr. Sowell, now a senior vice president at Salient Federal Solutions, an information technology company in Fairfax, Va., emphasized that he left the government before Mr. Snowden’s disclosures became public.
Intelligence and law enforcement officials say the report could have affected the assignments Mr. Snowden was given, first as an N.S.A. contractor with the computer company Dell in Japan and later with Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii, as well as the level of supervision he received.
The electronic systems the C.I.A. and N.S.A. use to manage the security clearances for its full-time and contracted employees are intended to track major rule-based infractions, not less serious complaints about personal behavior, a senior law enforcement official said. Thus, lesser derogatory information about Mr. Snowden was unlikely to have been given to the N.S.A. unless it was specifically requested. As a result of Mr. Snowden’s case, two law enforcement officials said, that flaw has since been corrected and such information is now being pushed forward.
The revelation of the C.I.A.’s derogatory report comes as Congress is examining the process of granting security clearances, particularly by USIS, a company that has performed 700,000 yearly security checks for the government. Among the individuals the company vetted were Mr. Snowden and Aaron Alexis, who the police say shot and killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard last month.
“We have a compelling need to monitor those trusted with this sensitive information on a more regular basis and with broader sets of data,” said Kathy Pherson, a former C.I.A. security officer who belongs to an intelligence industry task force that is expected to issue a report on the matter by year’s end.
While it is unclear what exactly the supervisor’s negative report said, it coincides with a period of Mr. Snowden’s life in 2009 when he was a prolific online commenter on government and security issues, complained about civil surveillance and, according to a friend, was suffering “a crisis of conscience.”
Mr. Snowden got an information technology job at the C.I.A. in mid-2006. Despite his lack of formal credentials, he gained a top-secret clearance and a choice job under State Department cover in Geneva. Little is known about what his duties were there.
Mavanee Anderson, who worked with Mr. Snowden in Geneva and also had a high security clearance, said in an article in The Chattanooga Times Free Press of Tennessee in June that when they worked from 2007 through early 2009, Mr. Snowden “was already experiencing a crisis of conscience of sorts.”
“Anyone smart enough to be involved in the type of work he does, who is privy to the type of information to which he was privy, will have at least moments like these,” she said.
Later, Mr. Snowden would tell the newspaper The Guardian that he was shocked and saddened by some of the techniques C.I.A. operatives in Geneva used to recruit sources. “Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world,” he told The Guardian. “I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.”
There were other signs that have since drawn investigators’ attention. In early 2009, someone using Mr. Snowden’s screen name expressed outrage at government officials who leaked information to the news media, telling a friend in an Internet chat that leakers “should be shot.”
“They’re just like WikiLeaks,” Mr. Snowden — or someone identified as him from his screen name, “TheTrueHOOHA,” and other details — wrote in January 2009 about an article in The New York Times on secret exchanges between Israel and the United States about Iran’s nuclear program.
He later told The Guardian he was disappointed that President Obama “advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in.”
“I got hardened,” he said.
Michael S. Schmidt contributed reporting from Washington, and Andrew Roth from Moscow.
October 10, 2013
By ERIC SCHMITT
Find this story at 10 October 2013