The intelligence disaster wrought by fomer National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden carries important lessons about the character of the digital world we now inhabit. Intelligence agencies, and indeed anyone who relies on information security, are far more vulnerable than in the past. At one time a spy was lucky to bring home a film cartridge from a Minox camera with copies (which might not be terribly good) of a few pages of some secret document. Obtaining those copies might take as much as 15 or 20 minutes, during which he was vulnerable to detection. A spy with legitimate access to a classified library might manage to obtain information from 10 to 20 documents in a day, assuming he knew what he wanted. Former civilian analyst Jonathan Pollard apparently obtained a few hundred sensitive documents, which he passed to his masters to be copied. He was limited to what he could carry in a briefcase. In each instance, the damage was significant, because even one sensitive document might well contain crucial information.
Snowden’s theft was on an altogether greater scale.