The count of Snowden files has ranged from an initial low end of 10,000 to the latest high of 1,700,000, although the high end is likely exaggerated by officials to maximize alleged damage.
The number of pages in these files has not been estimated but about 1,000 pages have been released, mostly as PDFs and images. How many total pages might be in the files and now long would it take Snowden to read them to assure least harm to the US?
For comparison, Cryptome’s archive is about 70,000 files. Converting these files to pages comes to about 1,000,000 pages. These files are PDFs, HTMLs, DOCs, TXTs, DWGs, images, spreadsheets, with a few videos and films excluded from the count. To get the page count all files were converted to PDFs. The page count of documents ranges from 1 to 2,200. This might be a fair range of types and page counts of files in the Snowden batch.
An average file then, of 70,000 files with 1,000,000 pages, comes to 14.28 pages per file. Using this as a guide for the Snowden files, the number of pages could range from 142,800 pages for 10,000 files to 24,276,000 pages for 1.7 million files.
Examining the low end of 142,800 pages would be about like reading 476 books of 300 pages length. Examining the high end of 24,276,000 pages would be like reading 80,920 books of 300 pages each.
Snowden is smart and knows his material thoroughly so time to speed read a 300-page book of NSA material, could be done in, say, 2 hours.
On the low end it would take 952 hours to read 142,800 pages, reading 10 hours a day, would come to 95 days, or about 3 months.
On the high end it would take 161,890 hours to read 24,276,000 pages, reading 10 hours a day, would come to 1,619 days or about 54 months — 4 1/2 years.
4 1/2 years is longer than Snowden is reported to have worked for Dell and Booz Allen as contractor to NSA.
It is unlikely Snowden would have examined 24 million pages.
More likely Snowden used a program to quickly analyze large data collections and rank intelligence actionability in the NSA manner. Glenn Greenwald told Buzzfeed that the documents had been beautifully organized, “almost to a scary degree.” As if prepared with a purposeful program for analyzing and data sharing with avid customers.
There are information security programs which compartmentalize data for multiple levels of security and access as well as controls for the distribution and timing of release. These are used to manage classified data handling among a variety of personnel and agencies with varying clearances.
It could be that Snowden remains in control of his material’s release by way of programmed implants in the material for access and timing although the material is physically distant from him. This too is conventional security practice.
These practices would be characteristic of a seasoned security person who could not be certain of media outlets’ long-term behavior, their transmission and storage security, their theft and spying prevention capabilities, their susceptiblity to coercion or persuasion by officials or by inducements to betray him to protect themselves.
Events have shown that these meticulous security measures would have been and remain appropriate.
It also allows Snowden to remain in charge of any negotiations for return of the material, for accurate accounting of the material’s scope, retention, distribution and release, and for assuring his safety without relying on the fickle fingers of fate of informants and turncoats which have beckoned the all-too-trusting to long-term imprisonment.
As an aside, another way to surmise what Snowden allegedly had on four laptops is by file size. Cryptome’s 70,000 files comes to about 17GB, or an average of 243KB per file. Using that as a guide to Snowden’s files, the total size ranges from 2.43GB for 10,000 files to 413GB for 1,700,00 files. On the high end that’s about 103GB per laptop. No problem, laptops with 100GB-250GB disks are common.