How did a 29-year-old dropout get NSA clearance? The answer may surprise you

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NEW YORK (PIX11) – Edward Snowden is a wanted man and on the run. He’s seeking extradition and was last seen in Hong Kong – after talking to the British newspaper the Guardian in Hong Kong about his role in one of the biggest government security breaches on record.

So how did he do it?

How did a 29-year-old high school dropout get deep enough into the NSA to access top secret information?

The answer is, he did it from the outside — as a private sector employee with top security clearance — working for the tech services firm Booz Allen Hamilton.

Scott Amey of the nonprofit group Project on Government Oversight says if you’re asking yourself, how could that happen don’t bother.

“The federal government, just in fiscal year 2000 – used to contract out about $200 billion a year. Well that number through the last few years has approached over $500 billion a year. And a majority of that spending is on services,” Amey told Pix11.

If you’ve never heard of Booz Allen Hamilton – don’t feel bad.

But they do big business – supplying personnel and selling expertise to the federal government.

The ex-CIA employee was making about $200 thousand a year working for the firm in Hawaii before he decided to go rogue – and claim responsibility for revealing the existence of the government’s data mining of everything from Verizon land line calls to Internet activity.

A company spokesman declined to answer any of our questions, but released this statement:

“News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm.”

Cyber-security expert Raj Goel says the requirements for top secret security clearance – have clearly changed.

“You don’t need a lot of technical skills anymore to collect this information. Any kid with a laptop can do it. Today we’ve really democratized technology and made it easy for anyone to build these large databases. And leaking is really not that difficult anymore,” Goel told Dow.

Congressman Peter King warns the security breach points to bigger problems with the way the federal government guards its secrets.

“It’s one thing if a master spy from the KGB is able to infiltrate, or able to get information. But to have a young person, seemingly on his own, with no real experience come in and be able to get all this information, to me it shows a real weakness in the system which has to be addressed,” King told Dow.