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Edward Snowden is an American system administrator and a former employee of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA) before leaking highly classified information on the agency’s top-secret PRISM surveillance program to the British newspaper The Guardian in June 2013.
This account is based on profile articles and interviews published by The Guardian:
In May 2004, Snowden enlisted in the United States Army as a special forces recruit but was discharged in September after suffering injuries on both of his legs while training. He then worked as a security guard for the National Security Agency’s covert facility at the University of Maryland, before joining the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as an IT security personnel. In 2007, Snowden was dispatched to Geneva, Switzerland, where he worked as a network security administrator with diplomatic cover. In 2009, he left the agency for a private contractor company and worked inside an NSA facility on a U.S. military base in Japan. Little is known is about Snowden’s whereabouts thereafter, but sometime between late March and early April 2013, he began working for U.S. defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton as a system administrator inside an NSA facility in Hawaii. In May 2013, Snowden took a temporary medical leave from his position. According to the real estate agents, Snowden and his girlfriend moved out of their home on May 1st.
2013 NSA PRISM Scandal
In January 2013, Snowden made contact with Laura Poitras, a Freedom of the Press board member and documentary filmmaker who previously reported on the NSA official William Binney’s whistleblowing for the New York Times in 2001, according to Poitras. In February, Snowden began working with The Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald, followed by first direct contact with The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman in May. According to the journalists, Snowden communicated using encrypted mail under the codename “Verax,” Latin for “truth-teller,” and requested not to be quoted at length to safeguard identification by semantic analysis.
The Guardian Interview
On June 8th, three days after The Guardan published the story about NSA surveillance programs, Snowden revealed his identity to the public’s eye in an interview with the UK newspaper. In the video, Snowden provides a brief description of the agency’s data-mining infrastructure and its capabilities, such as intercepting e-mails, phone calls, passwords and credit cards.
“Now increasingly we see that [clandestine intelligence gathering is] happening domestically and to do that they, the NSA specifically, targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default. It collects them in its system and it filters them and it analyses them and it measures them and it stores them for periods of time simply because that’s the easiest, most efficient, and most valuable way to achieve these ends. So while they may be intending to target someone associated with a foreign government or someone they suspect of terrorism, they’re collecting you’re communications to do so.”
The Guardian also reported that Snowden first thought about exposing government surveillance in 2007, but Barack Obama’s election in 2008 gave him a sense of hope. However, Snowden became disenchanted after Obama “ultimately advanced the surveillance policies rather than reforming them.” When asked about the motive behind his whistleblowing, Snowden told The Washington Post that he wanted to raise public awareness of “surveillance state” that the country was becoming so they could decide.
On June 9th, an online petition titled “Pardon Edward Snowden” was submitted to the White House, demanding the Obama administration to “issue a full, free and absolute pardon for any crimes he has committed or may have committed related to blowing the whistle on secret NSA surveillance programs.” The petition was quickly picked up by the news media and blogospher, reaching more than half of its signature goal of 100,000 in the first 48 hours. On June 10th, after The Guardian reported that Snowden may be seeking asylum in Iceland, a petition was submitted to Change.org requesting the Icelandic government to grant asylum to Snowden. That same day, a crowdfunding campaign seeking to thank Snowden with a reward was launched on Crowdtilt.
On October 29th, a website called FreeSnowden was launched by the Journalistic Source Protection Defence Fund (JSPDF), a newly founded UK organization with close affiliation to WikiLeaks, to raise money for Snowden’s legal defense. According to the website, the JSPDF is the only fundraiser campaign endorsed by WikiLeaks and Snowden himself and its accounting is administered by Derek Rothera & Company LLP, which also handles the legal defense fund for Julian Assange. Donations can be made by credit card, bank transfer, PayPal and WePay, as well as virtual curriences Bitcoin and Litecoin.
- U.S. Spying in China & Hong Kong: On June 14th, the South China Morning Post published an interview with Snowden in which he revealed that the United States government had been hacking into computers in Hong Kong and on the Chinese mainland since 2009.
- British Surveillance Program: On June 16th, The Guardian reported that the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) had intercepted communications of foreign politicians and envoys during the London G20 summit meetings in 2009, citing documents leaked by Snowden. On August 1st, The Guardian published an article about additional documents leaked by Snowden claiming that the US government gave the GCHQ £100 million in funding to maintain its influence over the surveillance programs overseas.
- U.S. Spying in Germany: On June 30th, the German news site Spiegel reported that the NSA spies on 500 million data connections in Germany every day. On July 8th, Spiegel published an interview with Snowden, in which he claims the NSA is “in bed together with the Germans” and the German intelligence agencies had contributed to the NSA’s XKeyscore data collection network.
- U.S. Domestic Surveillance: On June 27th, The Guardian reported that the Obama administration allowed the NSA to continue the “Stellar Wind” program started under President George W. Bush, which collected vast amounts of records detailing email and Internet usage of Americans. On September 28th, the New York Times published an article revealing that the NSA had used American phone and Internet data to create a map of social connections.
- U.S. Spying in the Middle East: On August 23rd, The Independent reported that Snowden provided leaked documents revealing a secret data-gathering base located in the Middle East. The article was subsequently disputed by Greenwald, who quoted Snowden claiming he had never “provided any journalistic materials to The Independent.” On August 31st, Spiegel published an article about documents leaked by Snowden showing that the Arab news broadcaster Al Jazeera had been spied on by the NSA. On September 2nd, The Washington Post reported that Snowden had provided documents showing that US intelligence had focused as intensely on Pakistan as they had on non-ally countries Iran and North Korea. * On September 11th, The Guardian reported on a new secret document leaked by Snowden, outlining how the NSA shares intelligence data with Israel prior to removing information about US citizens.
- U.S. Spying in Brazil: On September 1st, the Brazilian news site Fantástico published an interview with Greenwald, who claimed to have seen documents provided by Snowden indicating that the NSA had spied on Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff.
- Skype’s Project Chess: On June 19th, The New York Times published an article on additional documents leaked by Snowden, which revealed that the Internet communications company Skype had test-launched a secret surveillance program called Project Chess in 2008 to assist government intelligence agencies and law enforcement.
- XKeyscore Program: On July 31st, The Guardian reported on the XKeyscore program, which is reportedly capable of collecting every aspect of an Internet user’s activities, including the content of personal emails, web search history and browsing patterns, as well as their metadata.
- NSA’s Encryption-Cracking Capability: On September 5th, The Guardian published an article revealing that the NSA had cracked various encryption methods used to secure various online communications, some of which may have been stolen.
- Other NSA Projects: On June 28th, Greenwald claimed to have knowledge of an unpublished leaked document delivered by Snowden describing a new NSA technology that records 1 billion cell phone calls a day during his keynote speech at the Socialism 2013 conference. On August 29th, the Washington Post reported on a United States spy agency “black budget” leaked by Snowden, exposing a $52.6 billion intelligence agency proposal.
Online Life Revealed
On June 11th, details about Snowden’s personal life and digital footprints were revealed by Reuters, including his pseudonymous handle “TheTrueHOOHA” that he used on an anime forum and Ars Technica, several headshots of younger looking Snowden as an aspring model, as well as images of the girlfriend Lindsay Mills and her personal blog, which was lasted updated on June 9th (shown below):
My world has opened and closed all at once. Leaving me lost at sea without a compass. Surely there will be villainous pirates, distracting mermaids, and tides of change in this new open water chapter of my journey. But at the moment all I can feel is alone.
Other emerging details about Snowden’s online posts described as an agnostic, a video gamer who offered a review of Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne and once an aspiring model who had some headshots taken. According to Anthony DeRosa and Joe Mullin of Ars Technica, TheTrueHOOHA posted a joke about how one user’s Xbox 360 is "NSA’s new surveillance program sometime in 2006.
Live Q&A Session
At 11 a.m. (EST) on June 17th, The Guardian launched an exclusive real-time Q&A session with Edward Snowden, calling on its readers to submit their questions via its live blog or Twitter using the hashtag #AskSnowden. By 12:43 p.m., Snowden had provided his answers to a total of 17 questions asked by journalists as well as readers of The Guardian. In his responses, Snowden addressed his reason behind choosing Hong Kong as his first destination, conflicting reports surrounding his claimed annual salary and accusations of his defection to China in exchange for classified intelligence. In the following hours, the highlights of Snowden’s responses were summarized and compiled into articles by The Daily Beast and Salon.
Nobel Peace Prize Nomination
On July 13th, 2013, Swedish sociology professor Stefan Svallfors tweeted a screenshot of a letter he was going to submit to the Norwegian Nobel Prize committee nominated Edward Snowden for the Nobel Peace Prize. In the letter, Svallfors lauds Snowden for sacrificing so much of his personal life for the greater good. The letter also asserted that awarding the prize to Snowden would “help to save the Nobel Peace Prize from … disrepute” after the committee award the prize to Barack Obama 10 months into his presidency. According to Russia Today, a member of the International Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) confirmed that all of this year’s deadlines for nominations have passed and it is unlikely he will make the shortlist. Despite the nomination, Russian official Alexei Pushkov tweeted that it is unlikely the U.S. would allow the Prize to be given to Snowden.
Mejlar till Norska Nobelkommittén. pic.twitter.com/RCYqxHvOyO— Stefan Svallfors (@StefanSvallfors) July 13, 2013
NBC News Interview
On March 28th, 2014, NBC News broadcast an exclusive interview with Snowden by anchor Brian Williams (shown below). During the interview, Snowden claimed he was trained as a spy, refuting President Barack Obama’s description of him as a “hacker” and others claiming he was a low-ranking analyst. He went on to reveal that he had initially planned to go to Cuba and Latin America but he was stranded in Moscow after his passport was revoked by the State Department, and that he hopes to return to the United States someday. Additionally, he claimed he did not have any contact with the Russian government and did not disclose any information to them.
Daily Beast – The Best Bits From Edward Snowden’s Live Q&A Session
South China Morning Post – Edward Snowden – US Government has been hacking Hong Kong and China for years
The New York Times – NSA Gathers Data on Social Connections of U.S. Citizens