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ASPEN, Colo. (Reuters) - Former National Security Agency director Mike McConnell, who now works for defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, said people employed to sift through classified government data should not have solo access to the information.
McConnell, a Booz Allen vice chairman, was making one of his first public comments since former U.S. spy agency contractor and Booz Allen employee Edward Snowden revealed the agency's top-secret monitoring of phone and internet data.
Speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Friday, McConnell said he supports a proposal made by NSA chief General Keith Alexander.
"One of the things General Alexander has proposed is that a systems administrator, like this most recent leaker, any time he is having a level of access he enjoyed, it's a ... two-person control," he said. "You can't do it alone. You have to have a partner."
Snowden, an American citizen who is wanted by the United States on espionage charges and is seeking asylum in Ecuador, is currently in a transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, according to Russian officials. He arrived in Moscow last Sunday from Hong Kong.
He fled the United States to Hong Kong in May, a few weeks before publication in the Guardian and the Washington Post of details he provided about the communications surveillance programs.
The leaks have raised questions about the government's use of more than 480,000 contract workers who have top-secret security clearances. Booz Allen is a major American defense contractor.
McConnell, who began his career as a U.S. Navy intelligence officer and went on to lead the NSA from 1992 to 1996, defended the partnership between the government and private sector.
"Everything we use is made in the private sector - chips, airplanes, submarines, ammunition - it's all manufactured in the private sector," said McConnell, who also served as director of national intelligence from 2007 to 2009.
"So there is some element of bringing the best and brightest of the free market - innovation, creativity, new ideas - and to equip those of us in the military or whatever function we have in government to carry out our duties in the most productive way," he said.
"If you take away the ability of the government to harness the private sector, you would do serious harm to our collective interest," McConnell added.
Reporting By Poornima Gupta; Editing by Frances Kerry and Xavier Briand