NSA Whistle-Blower: Data Grabs 'Existential Threat to Democracy'
The Guardian revealed on Sunday the identity of the NSA whistle-blower who gave the publication information about the NSA's data surveillance programs.
Edward Snowden, who is reportedly hiding out in Hong Kong, leaked information about the PRISM program and presumably gave the publication documents about how the federal government has obtained court orders to force Verizon to turn over the private and international phone records of all of its customers on an ongoing basis.
Snowden is described as "a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton," who 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."
After the Washington Post broke the story about the NSA's PRISM program, the Guardian revealed more details, including the three billion pieces of intelligence the NSA reportedly collected from American computer networks over a 30-day period ending in March of 2013. The article, though, is not clear about what specific pieces of information Snowden leaked.
Snowden said he leaked the the various NSA documents because he felt the agency was "intent on making every conversation and every form of behavior in the world known to them," and he believed this posed an "existential threat" to democracy.
He is currently hiding in Hong Kong and may try to get asylum in Iceland because of its "reputation of a champion of internet freedom."
According to the report, Snowden left for Hong Kong three weeks ago from Hawaii after copying the "last set of documents he intended to disclose" from the NSA facility there. He told his supervisor and girlfriend that he had to be away from work "for a couple of weeks" to receive treatment for his epilepsy.
The Guardian reports Snowden boarded a flight on May 20 to Hong Kong because the city has "a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent," and he believed "that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US."
He now "lines the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping" and "puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords to prevent any hidden cameras from detecting them." He has left his hotel room a total of three times and is concerned the CIA, the Chinese government, or Triad gangs could come after him.
The Guardian says Snowden never asked for anonymity, saying, "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong." He reportedly wrote in a note accompanying the first set of documents that he understood he would 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 did not see himself as a "hero" but as someone who just leaked the information because he did not "want to live in a world where there's no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity."
Snowden also claims to have "carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest." He chose to disclose them because he said the NSA programs posed an "existential threat to democracy." He said he did not turn over documents that would have made a big impact because those documents could have harmed people. He said he once viewed the Internet as "the most important intervention in all of human history" before realizing how it could be used to undermine everyone's privacy.
According to the Guardian, he was living a "very comfortable life" that "included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves." The publication also reported that the "NSA police and other law enforcement officers have twice visited his home in Hawaii and already contacted his girlfriend, though he believes that may have been prompted by his absence from work, and not because of suspicions of any connection to the leaks."
He said he regrets that he will no longer be able to help his family but was satisfied and had "no regrets."
Snowden reportedly got a job with the NSA shortly after 2003, then moved to the CIA and was stationed in Geneva in 2007. He reportedly left the CIA in 2009 "in order to take his first job working for a private contractor that assigned him to a functioning NSA facility."