Al Qaeda and other Middle Eastern based hostile groups have repeatedly tried to infiltrate US intelligence agencies, The Washington Post reported Monday.
In a bid to counter the threat, the agencies are investigating the backgrounds of thousands of their employees, according to Agence France Presse.
According to a classified CIA document quoted by The Washington Post, one fifth of job applicants to the CIA had a "significant terrorist and/or hostile intelligence connections," according to AFP.
The document was provided to The Post by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked information about the organisation and is now a fugitive in Russia under temporary asylum, according to AFP.
Although the file did not go into detail over the nature of the applicants' extremist or "hostile" ties, it said that Hamas, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda and its affiliates were the groups trying to access the intelligence agencies most often.
According to the document, the NSA's fear of infiltration was so strong they planned last year to investigate at least 4,000 staff who obtained security clearances, AFP reported.
The NSA detected potentially suspicious actions by staff after searching through trillions of employee keystrokes at work.
“Over the last several years, a small subset of CIA's total job applicants were flagged due to various problems or issues,” one official told the Post, AFP reported.
“During this period, one in five of that small subset were found to have significant connections to hostile intelligence services and or terrorist groups.”
The suspicious behavior included staffers accessing classified databases they do not usually use for their work or downloading several documents, two people familiar with the software used to monitor staff told the Post and AFP reported.
The NSA's investigations have been delayed and ineffectual, if the spy agencies never detected Snowden copying a wide range of the agency's highly classified documents, according to AFP.
Snowden is wanted by Washington on espionage charges linked to media disclosures about US surveillance programs.
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