Snowden's work for the NSA probably from the start was intended as a penetration operation. Here's a lengthy quote from Epstein's latest piece:
While important details about Edward Snowden's activities in Hong Kong remain shrouded in secrecy, the conventional portrait of his stay there and in Russia as one of improvisation and serendipity is at odds with the precision of his well-planned thefts.
Until March 15, 2013, Mr. Snowden worked at the NSA base in Honolulu for Dell, the outside contractor which supplied technicians to work on the NSA's backup system. From this vantage point, he had access to the NSA Net, from which he pilfered most of the documents he later gave to journalists including the ones about NSA domestic operations that have preoccupied the world's media.
But he quit Dell and moved to Booz Allen Hamilton, the outside contractor that ran the computer systems in the NSA's Threat Operations Center. Here he could get access to the crown jewels, the lists of computers in four adversary nations—Russia, China, North Korea and Iran—that the agency had penetrated. He later told the South China Morning Post that his whole reason for making the job switch was to get "access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked."
Read the whole piece here:Snowden's Hong Kong GetawayHe carried out that theft, which included stealing passwords that gave him access to secret files, with great precision. There is no reason to assume that his getaway was any less deliberately planned.