Edward Snowden, a former CIA technical assistant and current employee of the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, which assigned him to work for the NSA, has revealed himself as the leaker behind the documents this week that showed the extent of spying that the NSA does on American citizens.
In a piece in The Guardian, which published the NSA documents, Snowden is revealed as a high school dropout who had stints in the army, the CIA, who has been working for the NSA for the past four years before his concern over the right to privacy convinced him to turn documents over to the Guardian. Snowden is now taking shelter in Hong Kong, where he believes extradition back to the United States on charges of leaking state secrets could be lengthy and problematic. He is currently staying in a hotel, alone, covering his laptop and his head with a large red hood whenever he logs onto his email, for fear of surveillance.
Snowden, who in interviews with the Guardian discussed his disenchantment first with the Army and then with the CIA, believes that several outcomes are possible after releasing the documents, none of them good:
"All my options are bad," he said. The US could begin extradition proceedings against him, a potentially problematic, lengthy and unpredictable course for Washington. Or the Chinese government might whisk him away for questioning, viewing him as a useful source of information. Or he might end up being grabbed and bundled into a plane bound for US territory.
"Yes, I could be rendered by the CIA. I could have people come after me. Or any of the third-party partners. They work closely with a number of other nations. Or they could pay off the Triads. Any of their agents or assets," he said.
"We have got a CIA station just up the road – the consulate here in Hong Kong – and I am sure they are going to be busy for the next week. And that is a concern I will live with for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be."
Snowden, who was living with his girlfriend in Hawaii earning $200,000 a year, fully intended to make his identity public when he decided to leak the documents. He told the NSA he needed a few weeks to deal with his epilepsy, and then fled to Hong Kong with the documents. He knew that his life would never be the same, but his belief in letting the public know what was being done, and the extent of the spying, led him to his choice.
"There are more important things than money. If I were motivated by money, I could have sold these documents to any number of countries and gotten very rich," he told The Guardian. "The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to."
Snowden only turned over documents that would alert the public to the NSA's spying, and not endanger any person in particular.
"I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest. There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn't turn over, because harming people isn't my goal. Transparency is," he told The Guardian.
Snowden left the army after breaking both his legs during a training mission, and the CIA after he watched them try to flip a Swiss banker by getting him drunk and then working with police to pull him over for DWI. He first thought about becoming a whistleblower then, but believed the CIA's secrets were too personal and would endanger too many people. He also thought that with the election of Barack Obama, spying on American citizens would be curtailed.
That was not to be the case.
4:15 PM: The Guardian is also running an interview with Snowden, recorded from his hotel room by the filmmaker Laura Poitras and interviewed by Glenn Greenwald.
He elaborates on his drastic decision to blow the whistle on the NSA:
"The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife's phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.
"I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under."
What exactly the documents illustrate:
That the NSA routinely lies in response to congressional inquiries about the scope of surveillance in America. I believe that when [senator Ron] Wyden and [senator Mark] Udall asked about the scale of this, they [the NSA] said it did not have the tools to provide an answer. We do have the tools and I have maps showing where people have been scrutinised most. We collect more digital communications from America than we do from the Russians."
On what might happen next:
The only thing I can do is sit here and hope the Hong Kong government does not deport me … My predisposition is to seek asylum in a country with shared values. The nation that most encompasses this is Iceland. They stood up for people over internet freedom. I have no idea what my future is going to be.
"They could put out an Interpol note. But I don't think I have committed a crime outside the domain of the US. I think it will be clearly shown to be political in nature."
On how he feels after the leaks:
"I think the sense of outrage that has been expressed is justified. It has given me hope that, no matter what happens to me, the outcome will be positive for America. I do not expect to see home again, though that is what I want."
5:25 PM: Booz Allen, Snowden's employer (which subsists almost entirely off of government contracts) has released the following statement:
June 9, 2013Booz Allen can confirm that Edward Snowden, 29, has been an employee of our firm for less than 3 months, assigned to a team in Hawaii. News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm. We will work closely with our clients and authorities in their investigation of this matter.