Meet Edward Snowden, the NSA Whistleblower

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Reuters

The Guardian's source for the leaks from the National Security Agency has outed himself as 29-year-old Edward Snowden, a GED holder high-school drop-out* who later tried to join the U.S. Army Special Forces and developed a knack for digital-security systems, leading to his most recent position as a $200,000 a year NSA-contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton based in Hawaii. Snowden left the U.S. and stationed himself in Hong Kong in advance of his planned campaign of top secret document leaks, and is hoping to be granted asylum in Iceland, according to a Sunday bombshell report in The Guardian by Glenn Greenwald, Ewan MacAskill, and Laura Poitras.

According to their report, Snowden is currently in fear for his future and his life, but also at peace with the choice he has made to release the documents on U.S. electronic surveillance. He said he fully expects the U.S. government to seek punish him.

One thing the privacy-rights advocate seems not to have fully considered is the role of the media and, especially, of amateur Internet sleuths in the United States in making his life unpleasant and stripping him of all privacy in the months ahead. He is about to become one of the most highly-scrutinized public figures in the world.

Snowden said he voted for a third party in 2008, though he did not specify which third party he voted for -- the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, the Constitution Party, and others ran candidates that year -- and had been wanting to be a whistleblower since before Obama was elected, but held off in hopes surveillance policies would change more than they have under the Democratic president.

"A lot of people in 2008 voted for Obama. I did not vote for him. I voted for a third party. But I believed in Obama's promises. I was going to disclose it [but waited because of his election]. He continued with the policies of his predecessor," Snowden said in an interview The Guardian posted online.

* Update: The first version of The Guardian piece described Snowden as a high-school dropout, which raised a lot of eyebrows as the U.S. Army does not take people without either a high-school diploma or a General Equivalency Diploma, with very rare exceptions. The paper later clarified that he holds a GED.

Update 2:
Booz Allen Hamilton has issued a statement on Snowden stating that he was a new employee of the firm:

Booz 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.

Snowden said he left America for Hong Kong on May 20, 2013 -- making him an even shorter term employee at Booz Allen -- because "they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent."

According to Freedom House, "In recent years, Beijing's influence over the news, publishing, and film industries [in Hong Kong] has increased, prompting greater restraint on issues deemed sensitive by the Chinese central government."
 
Hong Kong signed an extradition treaty with the United States in 1997.

TPM's Josh Marshall spells out what he sees as the implications: Snowden "seems to be hoping to evade the criminal consequences by defecting to China, a key US rival and one that comes up rather short of being the kind of libertarian and transparent society Snowden apparently believes in.... of all the places where you might have a shot at not getting extradited, China's not a bad choice. Hong Kong might even give you the best of both worlds, hosted by repressive government which is a US rival and yet living in a city with Western standards of openness, wealth, etc. But the decision to go to China inevitably colors his decision and sets up what could be a very uncomfortable diplomatic stand-off.... the Chinese might relish granting asylum to an American running from the claws of US 'state repression.'"

Update 3: Via Zeke Miller, an Edward Snowden who worked at Dell -- which The Guardian mentions is one of Snowden's former employers -- and who was based in Hawaii and Maryland -- where Snowden is known to have lived -- donated twice in 2012 to libertarian Republican Ron Paul. These donations were made right before Paul ended the active campaigning phase of his presidential primary bid.
Thumbnail image for Screen Shot 2013-06-09 at 5.34.46 PM.pngUpdate 4: The White House declined to comment and said it would not be issuing a statement Sunday night about the identification of the NSA leaker, according to a pool report.

Update 5: The Associated Press reports that Snowden and his girlfriend cleared out of their Hawaii house on May 1, "leaving nothing behind."

Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.


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