If I Were Running A Company…Edward Snowden

The Guardian had an interview with Edward Snowden, which was followed by the Washington Post, who admitted he leaked confidential information to the public because of his discomfort of how the government is withholding information and, in his mind, should be transparent to the public.

Let’s look at the ramifications of Snowden’s actions in an HR/recruiting point of view.

I have vested interest in the NSA leaks because it involves government contracting, which is Northern Virginia’s biggest business, and I have friends and acquaintances in that field.  If sequestration slowly is taken away productivity and jobs, the Snowden incident is going to accelerate that.

The biggest loser of the leaks is Booz Allen as there are responsible of hiring Snowden. As a result, stocks dropped 5% on Monday, a PR nightmare, and a cloudy future with not only dealing with the federal government, but in the workplace. If Booz Allen employees were worried about layoffs before, they will worry much more now.

In addition to Booz Allen, other big government contracting companies should be worried as well. Learning about how Snowden came into government contracting, companies will be extra careful in their hiring decisions. If Snowden had a GED, no college degree, and an Army discharge because of injury, expect companies to put in job descriptions that they must have a college degree, tons of experience, pass a polygraph test, have top-secret clearance, and must attend a week-long seminar on surveillance and privacy. In government contracting, you better be a safe bet.

Even with all the updated qualifications, it is the person behind the leaks that is still worrisome. You can take polygraphs and personality tests, but those tests can be gamed. Did Booz Allen, or any other Snowden’s previous employers, knew what he was capable of doing this? That is hard to tell because the employers, or anyone, had no idea he would be serious leaking out the information.

(Off topic: is it suspicious that The Guardian did spoke to Snowden one month before he got the job at Booz Allen? What about Glenn Greenwald‘s behavior on the talk show circuit?)

Booz Allen would’ve search him in the internet to discover his personality and beliefs, but I think this is why Snowden did what he did. In his mind, he wants the world to be transparent. He thinks there should be a proper way for citizens and government to live and work together. If they have no information except a picture of him and his girlfriend (won’t show the link or picture because she’s a pole dancer and I know some government contracting workers are reading this), that would be hard to tell.

So, if they can’t search the internet to determine Snowden’s character, then what can a company do to prevent it? The best way is using your instincts. You can ask questions, follow-up, ask behavioral questions, the kitchen sink. Even if interviewees gives a canned answer; look at their movements, listen to their tone, hear answers that are short or long. One of the reasons Snowden was hired by the CIA and Booz Allen was his talent as a computer programmer. You don’t hear he was hired because of his talent AND character. Maybe if either the CIA or Booz Allen focus on the character part, either by interviewing or training, this would’ve been prevented. From the evidence that is given, maybe that was hard to tell as well.

I have said this before: hiring is a crapshoot. You hope for the best, but you don’t know.

The Edward Snowden case is mainly about surveillance vs. privacy, government transparency, internet laws, net neutrality and more. I focus on the HR aspect of it because that is my expertise and Snowden’s consequences might have altered government contracting hiring practices and possible layoffs. This quote strikes me the most from Snowden:

“There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.”

Yeah, about that…


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  • How deep an wide is the rabbit hole? Snowden committed treason. However the take away point being swept over is not the capturing of data but how can be used does being a local social to the framework sway ones opinion?

  • Chris: That depends on what their character is. Snowden was establishing to be the next Aaron Swartz, but when too far ahead. It’s tough to tell it would sway opinion because there’s a lot of data and although there might be terrible stuff, government workers are programmed to see patterns. I’m for transparency in government, but I don’t want it to be THAT open because it would ruin foreign (and possibly domestic) relations. IMO, Snowden got his job with his talents. With a GED and little to no college experience, he had a simplistic point of view. I think contractors and the government need to be aware when hiring next time because there has been 4 examples so far.

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