Such was the case when I pondered the article in Vanity Fair a little bit more. To demonstrate, here's a bit of the timeline I pulled from it.
April 2012 - Snowden is working for Dell and is transferred to NSA’s Kunia Regional Security Operations Center in Hawaii. The article states:
Analysts at Kunia are said to focus on the electronic monitoring of China and North Korea.Almost immediately, he began hacking the NSA's systems.
In today’s electronic bureaucracies, both government and corporate, a sysadmin [Snowden's job at the time] operates within fairly loose guidelines; like a motorcycle rider, he is free to roam far and wide, but only as long as he stays in his own lane. Later, after Snowden went public, N.S.A. experts studying his activities could see that, almost from his first weeks on the job, he had not only left his own lane but driven off the road entirely, zinging through open fields and peering into empty mansions. “He really went across policy lines and all kinds of things that he really shouldn’t have been able to get into as a sysadmin,” says William Binney.December 2012 - Snowden first contacts Glenn Greenwald to begin the process of leaking documents. When Glenn didn't respond, he contacted Laura Poitras in February - who eventually got the two of them connected.
February 2013 - Snowden decides to leave his job with Dell and go to work for Booz Allen.
On the face of it he seemed to be trying to take a step up the intelligence ladder, shedding his job as a computer technician for actual espionage work; in fact, Snowden has indicated, he wanted access to more information he could download. Having passed on the N.S.A.’s job offer, he applied for and received a job at Booz Allen Hamilton, where he would move to the “cyber-security” side of the N.S.A., tracking and targeting threats to the country’s information infrastructure...“His job was to look at cyber-adversaries,” says Ledgett, “people who were exploiting U.S. communications or U.S. computer networks. And his job was to pursue them as targets and try to figure out what they were doing.”Keep in mind that just three months prior, a Congressional report had stated unequivocally that China is the biggest threat when it comes to cyber security.
China is “the most threatening actor in cyberspace” as its intelligence agencies and hackers use increasingly sophisticated techniques to gain access to U.S. military computers and defense contractors, according to the draft of an annual report mandated by Congress...So you can rest assured that if Snowden was tracking and targeting cyber security threats, he was likely focused on China.
A U.S. intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters, described as relentless China’s efforts to blind or disrupt U.S. intelligence and communications satellites, weapons targeting systems, and navigation computers.
The commission’s draft report bolsters warnings by U.S. officials that cyberattacks pose growing risks to the military and to critical industries such as electric utilities, pipelines, and telecommunications. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta cited Chinese and Russian capabilities in an Oct. 11 speech, saying cyber threats could become as devastating as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
May 2013 - Snowden leaves for Hong Kong. He arrived there on May 18/19 and we know nothing of his activities until Greenwald, Poitras and MacAskill arrive on June 1st. After being interviewed and filmed by these three, he goes into hiding again on June 10th and then leaves for Russia on the 23rd. That leaves 10 days prior to his meetings with the reporters and 12 days afterwards that either his location and/or activities in Hong Kong are unknown.
But here's the catch...if I was to ask you which stories from the Snowden cache have garnered the most attention in this country, it would undoubtably be the first two that were reported: (1) the FISA court order to Verizon on the metadata program, and (2) the PRISM program (the NSA collaboration with social networks like Microsoft, Google, etc.) However, the Verizon court order was signed on April 25, 2013 (posted online on April 29th) and the powerpoint slides outlining the PRISM program were from a presentation made in April 2013. So that means that Snowden couldn't have been in possession of those documents until almost 5 months AFTER he first contacted Greenwald (and just a couple of weeks before he fled to Hong Kong).
So the question becomes - what was he planning to leak when he first contacted Greenwald? All we know is that he was sure to have access to tons of material about China and cyber security threats - none of which has been released to the public. We also know that he fled first to Hong Kong - where his activities are unaccounted for over the course of 22 days - and then was granted asylum in Russia.
While everyone else is focusing either on privacy or the need to protect against terrorist threats, excuse me if I get concerned about what Snowden might have told China/Russia about our country's attempts to protect against cyber attacks. If that grants me access to the tin foil hat club...so be it.