NSA whistle-blower steps forward

UPDATED: Edward Snowden, who may face government prosecution, says, "I have done nothing wrong"

Published June 9, 2013 7:07PM (EDT)

Edward Snowden (Guardian screen grab)
Edward Snowden (Guardian screen grab)

Updated below

On Sunday leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees said that the leaker who revealed the NSA phone and Internet surveillance programs should be prosecuted. On the very same day, former CIA technical assistant Edward Snowden chose to out himself via the Guardian (where he had sent this week's leaks). The U.K. newspaper has already celebrated Snowden as a whistle-blower of historical significance on par with Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. Via the Guardian:

The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.

The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," he said.

Snowden will go down in history as one of America's most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world's most secretive organisations – the NSA.

Snowden is currently hiding out in Hong Kong, a country he believes will be a safe place to resist potential U.S. extradition efforts against him. Hong Kong actually has an extradition treaty with the U.S., but Snowden is but a short trip from mainland China, from where the U.S. would find it more difficult to extradite him.  The whistle-blower was prepared for a harsh government response from the moment he decided to pass top secret documents to the Guardian:

In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: "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."

Despite his determination to be publicly unveiled, he repeatedly insisted that he wants to avoid the media spotlight. "I don't want public attention because I don't want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing."

...I could not do this without accepting the risk of prison. You can't come up against the world's most powerful intelligence agencies and not accept the risk. If they want to get you, over time they will.

Despite his expressed desire that the public focus on the content of his leaks and what they reveal, a scramble to know more about the 29-year-old who has risked so much in passing on top-secret documents will no doubt ensue. So far, what's known of the well-spoken analyst is that he's had "a very comfortable life" with a six-figure salary, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career and a family he loves. "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," he said. He also noted that he's a third-party voter, but even so has been disappointed in Obama's continuation of Bush-era policy.
He explained the impetus behind making the top secret documents public instead of, say, selling the information for profit:

"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."

For him, it is a matter of principle. "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.

His allegiance to internet freedom is reflected in the stickers on his laptop: "I support Online Rights: Electronic Frontier Foundation," reads one. Another hails the online organisation offering anonymity, the Tor Project.

Updated, 4:02 p.m. EDT: Snowden is already finding support is unexpected places. Glenn Beck has praised the whistle-blower as a hero:

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Updated, 5:33 p.m. EDT: In a statement posted to its website, Booz Allen confirmed that the NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden was an employee. It decries his actions:

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.

Updated, 6 p.m. EDT: BuzzFeed reports that Snowden's third-party choice in 2012 was Ron Paul; according to federal records he donated to the campaign twice.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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Dragnet Edward Snowden Nsa Nsa Whistleblower Prism Surveillance Whistleblower