NSA contractor and former CIA technical employee Edward Snowden announced today that he was the source for documents published about the NSA’s secret surveillance programs. Image courtesy of the Guardian
Edward Snowden, a former computer security administrator for the CIA and current contractor for the NSA, has outed himself as the source of a string of explosive documents describing NSA surveillance activities against U.S. citizens and foreign targets.
The 29-year-old, who now works for the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton on projects for the NSA in Hawaii, revealed himself as the source of documents provided to the Guardian and Washington Post about the NSA’s collection of phone records belonging to millions of Americans as well as a surveillance program called PRISM that targets the internet communications and activities of foreign targets.
Snowden made the revelations in a lengthy story and video published by the Guardian today.
“I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” Snowden said in the interview, conducted last Thursday in Hong Kong where he was in hiding at the time the leaks were published. He added, “I am not afraid, because this is the choice I’ve made.”
He identified himself as an infrastructure analyst for the NSA in Hawaii, earning $200,000 a year, but has worked as a contractor for the NSA for four years on behalf of various contract firms.
He worked previously as a systems engineer and administrator, a senior advisor for the CIA and a telecommunications information systems officer and described his growing distress over the years as his exposure to the government’s surveillance activities grew.
In a note that he wrote to accompany the first documents he gave the papers, he 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 also said that he didn’t want media attention for leaking but wanted the spotlight focused instead on the broad surveillance the U.S. government was doing.
“I know the media likes to personalize political debates, and I know the government will demonize me,” he said in the interview. “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…. My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”
Snowden said he was willing to sacrifice his career and the stable life he had made with his girlfriend in Hawaii “because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”
He said he assumed the government would accuse him of violating the Espionage Act and aiding enemies but this didn’t concern him. The Guardian said the only time he became emotional during interviews was when he pondered the impact this would have on his family, many of whom work for the U.S. government.
“The only thing I fear is the harmful effects on my family, who I won’t be able to help any more. That’s what keeps me up at night,” he told the paper.
Booz Allen Hamilton released a statement confirming that Snowden worked for them but said he had been an employee “for less than 3 months.”
“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,” the company wrote. “We will work closely with our clients and authorities in their investigation of this matter.”
The revelation came after the Director of National Intelligence James. R. Clapper announced yesterday that the NSA had begun an investigation into the leaking of the documents.
Prior to Snowden coming forward, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) had criticized the leaker and Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald for publishing information about programs they failed to understand.
“He doesn’t have a clue how this thing works; nether did the person who released just enough information to literally be dangerous,” Rogers said, adding, “I absolutely think [the leaker] should be prosecuted.”
Snowden’s extensive technical background proves the assertion about his knowledge wrong.
Nonetheless, both the Guardian and the Washington Post were criticized for errors in the explosive stories they broke last week regarding the government’s surveillance — errors they attributed to the documents that Snowden provided and to information that Snowden himself gave them about the nature of the surveillance.
The Guardian led on Wednesday with the revelation that the NSA had obtained a court order to collect the phone records of millions of Verizon customers in the U.S. for a three-month period beginning in April. Senator Dianne Feinstein later acknowledged that the order was actually a re-issue for an ongoing collection order that was renewed repeatedly every three months.
The following day, both the Post and the Guardian published stories claiming that the NSA had direct access into the servers of nine internet companies, including Google, Yahoo and Facebook, and were collecting large volumes of data with the cooperation of these firms, including email and audio and video traffic as well as documents.
Both papers had to step back from that allegation, however, after the internet companies strongly denied that the NSA had direct connections to their servers or that they provided any data that was not targeted and part of a court order.
The Post and Guardian made the false accusations based on a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation that Snowden provided the papers and on assertions from Snowden himself. In a revised story, the Postdeleted mention that the NSA has direct access to company servers but said the system allows analysts to query data through equipment that is housed at company controlled locations.
Snowden first began thinking about leaking back in 2009 when he was stationed in Geneva, Switzerland, for the CIA.
His route to the CIA was circuitous. Snowden never matriculated from high school, but in 2003, he enlisted in the US army and began a training for Special Forces. He got discharged, however, after breaking both of his legs.
After this, he got a job as a security guard for one of the NSA’s covert facilities at the University of Maryland.
He followed that with a job in IT security for the CIA. In 2007, the CIA stationed him with diplomatic cover in Geneva for a computer security job that gave him clearance and access to a wide array of classified documents.
Like Bradley Manning before him, it was that access to documents and his time spent around colleagues that led him to begin questioning the government’s activities.
“Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world,” he says. “I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.”
He thought about exposing government secrets at the time, but didn’t because CIA secrets are mostly about people and he didn’t want to endanger anyone. He also thought the election of Barack Obama in 2008 would change things.
In 2009 he left the CIA for a job with a private contractor and got assigned to an NSA facility at a military base in Japan.
The next three years broadened his education of the NSA’s surveillance activities and increased his disillusionment and dissatisfaction with the NSA.
“[T]hey are intent on making every conversation and every form of behavior in the world known to them,” he told the Guardian, and said agency posed an “existential threat to democracy.”
“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,” he said.
Snowden contrasted himself to Bradley Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst who went on trial last week for leaking more than a million documents to WikiLeaks, saying that contrary to Manning he “carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest” and withheld ones that did not fit that goal.
“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 also said he purposely chose to give the documents to journalists whose judgment he trusted about what should be public and what should remain concealed.
Asked how he felt after watching the public’s reaction to the disclosures over the last few days, he said, “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.”
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