For those who are wondering what a 29-year-old with a GED was doing with clearances, I actually know something about this. I had TS/SCI, with various compartments within a specific type of program, before I was 25. None of that was unusual.
I also had a bachelor’s in physics & math, but that was needed for my job. Evidently, for Snowden’s computer work, he had skills in demand. He had whatever tickets they felt he needed to do the computer work he was hired to do. So while this was obviously a failure from a vetting point of view, there’s nothing about his age or his skills that a priori points to a problem.
Senator Wyden (who evidently tried to trap DCI Clapper into revealing the existence of the NSA program in open session) has also made much of the contractor/employee division, implying that contractors are somehow at greater risk for this sort of thing to happen.
This is also overblown. I was always a contractor, once for a company whose primary client was in Langley. There was cultural friction between the “blue badges” (employees) and the “green badges” (contractors), to be sure. There was a difference in pay, and there was also a difference in the type of work they did. The employees did the actual analysis, for the most part, while the contractors did the programming and the support work.
There was never any sense that contractors were inherently less trustworthy or loyal to the country. We had passed the same polygraph tests, after all. But we were clearly outsiders, who hadn’t made the sacrifice of joining the Company, and so were always more temporary.
There is no reason to believe, and nobody at the time believed, that contractors were more likely to be careless with security, or to go trotting off to our primary adversaries, portfolios tucked under our arms.