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Since the Guardian revealed Edward Snowden as the source behind its explosive scoops on National Security Agency surveillance, media outlets have been picking over the details of the whistleblower's life, everything from his stint in community college to the identity of his abandoned girlfriend. Here's another small detail about his background that intrigued some people: "[H]e got his first job in an NSA facility, working as a security guard for one of the agency's covert facilities at the University of Maryland." Some reporters were surprised to learn that the University of Maryland had a "covert" NSA facility operating somewhere on or near the school grounds. (The NSA itself is headquartered in nearby Fort Meade, Maryland.)
On Sunday, the Diamondback, the university's student newspaper, noted: "Which facility and exactly where it was Snowden worked is unknown, but the NSA has connections to several university facilities, including the Laboratory for Physical Sciences, the Office of Technology Commercialization and the Lab for Telecommunication Science." Later, the university confirmed that in 2005 Snowden worked for less than a year as a "security specialist" for the NSA-linked Center for Advanced Study of Language (CASL), which serves as a research center for the intelligence community.
The research done at CASL ranges from cultural and linguistic studies to work on "spycraft" technology (click here to read a rundown of the Center's language research, published in the NSA's quarterly online journal). One neuroscience project reportedly focused on filling in the blanks of incomplete texts, such as documents from corrupted hard drives or intercepted communications. "CASL's cognitive neuroscience team has been studying the cognitive basis of working memory's capacity for filling in incomplete areas of text," a CASL document reads. "They have made significant headway in this research by using a powerful high-density electroencephalogram (EEG) machine acquired in 2006." Another project involved training subjects to control their own brain-wave activity.
The university administration has touted its NSA partnership. "In support of the nation's critical need for increased language capabilities, this Center will conduct groundbreaking research in areas such as language acquisition, contextual analysis of language, and human computer interaction and computer translation, and become the largest center for language study in the world," C.D. Mote, Jr., former president of the university, announced in September 2003.