Edward Snowden, 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA, has revealed himself as the leaker in the now infamous story from the Guardian and the Washington Post published last Thursday, revealing a massive U.S. Government classified global surveillance program.
Snowden, who began his career as a security guard at an NSA training facility after being discharged from the military due to leg injuries sustained during a training program, said that he had "no regrets" about disclosing the classified documents.
"I have no intention of hiding who I am," he told Glenn Greenwald in an interview, the same Guardian journalist from who broke the original story. "I know I have done nothing wrong." Snowden has willingly authorized a disclosure of his identity, giving up a $200,000 a year salary working as a defense contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton. He had spent the last four years as an employee of various other contractors, including Dell, through which he had gained access to a vast array of sensitive and classified information.
"I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions," Snowden wrote in a letter attached to the first set of documents he released to the press. "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."
About three weeks ago he told his boss that he needed to take a few weeks off, citing treatment for epilepsy. He told his girlfriend, with whom he shares a house in Hawaii, that he had to leave for a while. "This is not an uncommon occurrence for someone who has spent the last decade working in the intelligence world," he said.
On May 20th he boarded a flight for Hong Kong — one of the few places in the world that would, and probably could, protect him from a possible U.S. extradition attempt. "They have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent," he said. Though more than a decade working for one of the most secret intelligence firms in the most powerful government in the world have taken its toll — he hasn't left his hotel more than a handful times in the last two weeks, paranoid that he had already been found (there is a CIA consulate just up the street from the hotel). He keeps himself locked in his room, with pillows lining the door to prevent eavesdroppers, and a red hood held over his head and computer whenever he enters a password.
"I don't want public attention," Snowden said, "because I don't want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the U.S. government is doing. I know the media likes to personalize political debates, and I know the government will demonize me." He continued, "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 has been keeping up with the news from his room in Hong Kong as the media lit up, watching with satisfaction as the public has launched into a critical debate about these programs, re-weighing the relationship between our freedom and our liberties.
"I don't see myself as a hero," he said, "because what I'm doing is self-interested: I don't want to live in a world where there's no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity." He separates himself from other notable whistle-blowers, like Bradley Manning, by noting that he carefully scrutinized the documents he felt were appropriate for release, and then allowed the press to scrutinize further.
"I carefully evaluated every single documents I disclosed," he explained, "to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest. 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."
Snowden is unsure what will happen next, aware that many officials in Washington are clamoring for his arrest and prosecution. He expects either an extradition proceeding, questioning by the Chinese government into activities at the NSA, or worse. The only thing protecting him now, he says, is the widespread publicity the story has gotten.
He said he had been optimistic in 2008 when President Barack Obama had been elected, only to watch the administration lead a historically-unprecedented crack-down on government leaks and ramp-up of widespread Internet surveillance.
"I don't welcome leaks," the president said in an interview on Friday, in response to the PRISM papers. "There's a reason why these programs are classified."
Barton Gellman, the Washington Post reporter who broke the sister story, had made a vague implication yesterday that Snowden's identity would soon be revealed. "The source does not believe that it's possible to stay masked forever," he said, "and I don't even think wants to stay masked forever … He believes himself to be a whistleblower, that he's operating out of conscience, he thinks that what the NSA's doing exceeds all reasonable boundaries of privacy or necessity, and I think he wants to stand up and say that."
"I'm not afraid," Snowden said calmly, "because this is the choice I have made … I feel satisfied that this was all worth it. I have no regrets."