A 29-year-old former CIA employee who admitted responsibility Sunday for one of the most extraordinary leaks of classified information in U.S. history told the Guardian he exposed the documents because he thinks Americans should know how the government has intruded on their privacy.
“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,” Edward Snowden told the Guardian in an interview.
In the interview, Snowden described a comfortable lifestyle and a stellar career that included a $200,000 salary from consulting company and defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, of McLean, Va., and a home in Hawaii that he shared with a girlfriend. He told the paper his main fear is the U.S. government will come after his family, his friends and his partner.
Snowden, who learned after seizures last year that he suffers from epilepsy, is a former technical assistant for the CIA who spent the past four years at the NSA as a contract employee of several companies, including Dell and Booz Allen, the newspaper reported. He copied the documents last week at NSA’s Hawaii office and then told a supervisor he needed time off for medical treatment, the newspaper said.
When he boarded a plane to Hong Kong on May 20, he simply told his girlfriend he would be away for a few weeks, the Guardian reported. The paper said Snowden is now staying in a hotel in Hong Kong and is considering seeking asylum in Iceland.
“I do not expect to see home again, though that is what I want,” he told the newspaper.
He told the newspaper he is willing to stand behind his actions in public because “I know I have done nothing wrong.”
“My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them,” he told the Guardian.
Snowden grew up in Elizabeth City, N.C., but his family eventually moved to Ellicott City, Md., near NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, the Guardian reported. He did not complete high school and instead earned a GED certificate. Snowden did not finish community college, where he studied computers.
In 2003, he enlisted in the Army but broke both his legs in a Special Forces training accident and was discharged, he told the Guardian.
His first NSA job was as a security guard at an agency facility at the University of Maryland in College Park, the Guardian reported. Next, he worked on IT security at the CIA. One job in 2007 took him to Geneva, where he maintained computer network security for the CIA, the paper said.
Snowden told the paper he thought about revealing government surveillance then, but Obama’s 2008 election gave him hope of real reform.
In 2009, he went to work for a private contractor that assigned him to an NSA facility on a military base in Japan, the paper said. Obama, Snowden said, ultimately advanced the surveillance policies rather than reforming them.
Snowden described NSA’s data-capturing infrastructure as so intrusive it can intercept emails, phone calls, passwords and credit cards. He told the newspaper that the NSA “routinely lies” to Congress about the scope of its surveillance in the United States.
The Guardian said Snowden is so worried about surveillance that he pads his hotel room door with pillows to prevent eavesdropping and drapes a hood over his head and laptop to avoid password detection by hidden cameras.
“I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things,” he said in the Guardian interview. “We collect more digital communications from Americans than we do from the Russians.”