- Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former CIA technical assistant, says he passed the classified information to The Guardian
- The documents blew open a number of intense NSA surveillance operations and caused a firestorm over the government’s actions
- Snowden, a high school drop-out, says he leaked information because he doesn’t ‘want to live in a society that does these sort of things’
- Comes after National Intelligence director James R Clapper defended the surveillance programs for keeping America safe
- NSA filed criminal report with Justice Dept. in relation to leaks to The Guardian and The Washington Post
PUBLISHED: 14:09 EST, 9 June 2013 | UPDATED: 15:34 EST, 9 June 2013
The whistle-blower responsible for leaking confidential NSA documents in one of the most serious breaches in U.S. political history has come forward.
Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former CIA technical assistant, claims he passed the classified information that blew open a number of intense surveillance operations to the media because he doesn’t ‘want to live in a society that does these sort of things.’
Snowden, who now works for Booz Allen Hamilton, a defense contractor for the National Security Agency, caused a firestorm after he leaked the top-secret documents to The Guardian over several days of interviews.
Whistle-blower: Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former CIA technical assistant, claims he passed the classified information to the media
He said he wanted to own up to the leak because he didn’t believe he’d done anything illegal.
‘I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,’ he told The Guardian.
Explaining his decision to disclose the sensitive documents, North Carolina native said: ‘I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,’ but ‘I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.’
He said he was bracing for the government to demonize him, but he hoped that his coming forward would not divert attention away from the revelations he made public.
‘I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in,’ he told The Guardian.
‘My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.’
Hide out: Snowden boarded a plane to Hong Kong, pictured, on May 20 and has been there since
Snowden was living ‘a very comfortable life’ with his live-in girlfriend in Hawaii, where he earned $200,000 with Booz Allen.
But he said: ‘I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.’
According to The Guardian, Snowden copied the final set of documents he intended to disclose three weeks ago, at the NSA office in Hawaii where he had been working.
He then told his boss and his girlfriend that he’d be away for a few weeks, keeping the reasons vague as only someone working in intelligence can, and on May 20, he boarded a plane to Hong Kong, where he remains.
He chose Hong Kong because ‘they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent,’ he said.
Defensive: Director of National Intelligence James R Clapper said in a statement Saturday that disclosures on intelligence gathering practices were ‘reckless’
Informant: The Director of National Intelligence James R Clapper, left, released a statement on PRISM, which is reported to have been used to gather information from the data centers of Internet companies like Facebook, one of which is pictured left
‘Necessary’: The top intelligence official, James R Clapper, said the NSA’s intelligence measures disclosed in recent reports were ‘used to keep Americans safe’
Snowden said he has been holed up in a hotel room since arriving in the city, leaving it just three times for fear he’s being spied on.
He described to the newspaper how he rims the door of the plush hotel room, where he is eating all of his meals, with pillows to prevent anyone from eavesdropping.
Snowden has good reason to be concerned. The NSA – the most powerful and secretive organization in the world – is hunting him down, having visited his home in Hawaii twice and already contacted his girlfriend.
Sitting in his hotel room alone, he has watched television reports and read articles online since the news of the leaks first broke, and he is well aware of the threats being thrown his way.
And given the Obama administration’s track record at prosecuting whistle-blowers, he fully expects to get the same treatment. But he insists he is not afraid of what lies ahead because ‘this is the choice I’ve made,’ he told The Guardian.
According to newspaper, he broke down just once during the series of interviews, when he was discussing the impact his actions would have on his family, many of whom work in government agencies or departments. He said these fears for his family’s welfare kept him up at night.
Snowden’s ability to get to the center of the NSA is impressive given he attended community college in Maryland to obtain his high school diploma but dropped out before completing.
Ten years ago he enlisted in the US army and began a training program to join the Special Forces, explaining to The Guardian that he wanted to fight in the Iraq war because he felt he had an obligation as a human being to help free people from oppression – the same reason he is giving to justify his leaks. But he broke both his legs in a training accident and was discharged.
He got his first NSA job working as a security guard at one of the agency’s facilities at the University of Maryland before moving to the CIA to work on IT security. There, he rose quickly.
He was given more and more access to top-secret documents as he climbed the ranks. And in 2007, he was stationed with diplomatic cover in Geneva, Switzerland, where he was responsible for maintaining computer network security.
The clearance sparked his concern for the intense surveillance detailed in the documents.
He told The Guardian of one incident where CIA operatives got a Swiss banker drunk in an effort to recruit him as an informant to obtain secret banking information.
He said they encouraged him to drive home intoxicated in his car and when he was arrested for DUI, the undercover agents offered to help and managed to recruit the banker after the favor.
He said this and other things he witnessed in Geneva disillusioned him about how his government worked and how this in turn impacted the world.
‘I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good,’ he said.
He told The Guardian that he first considered exposing the Government’s secrets in Geneva but he chose not to because he didn’t want to endanger anyone – the CIA deals in people rather than systems or technology.
When he quit that role in 2009, he took up a job with an outside contractor and was assigned to an NSA facility in Japan.
He said he was disappointed President Obama advanced the policies he was hoping the newly elected President was stamp out, and that ‘hardened’ him.
He said he could no longer wait around for someone else to act, and after spending three years learning just how ‘intent’ the NSA was to make every conversation and behavior in the world known to them, he took the leap.
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