Whistleblower behind US intel leak revealed
U.S. National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a U.S. defence contractor, is seen in this still image taken from a video during an interview with the Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong June 6, 2013. REUTERS/Courtesy of The Guardian/Glenn Greenwald/Laura Poitras/Handout29-year-old government contractor has revealed himself as the source who leaked details of a vast, secret U.S. program to monitor Internet users, as the U.S. spy chief pressed for a criminal probe.
Edward Snowden, who has been working at the National Security Agency (NSA) for the past four years, admitted his role in a video interview posted on the website of the British daily The Guardian, the first newspaper to publish the leaked information. “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 said, speaking in Hong Kong. He said he had gone public because he could not “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.”
The Washington Post, the second newspaper to publish the leaked information, also revealed details from its correspondence with Snowden, including his bleak assessment of his future, once the information was out. “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions, and that the return of this information to the public marks my end,” he wrote in early May, warning the Post reporter he was in danger too.
When Snowden was asked about how he feels almost a week after the first leak, he said: “I do not expect to see home again, though that is what I want.” A former technical assistant for the CIA, he worked for the NSA as an employee of various outside contractors, including Dell and Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has had “a very comfortable life” that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend, a stable career, and a family he loves.
Hope from Hong Kong
Three weeks ago, Snowden made final preparations that resulted in last week’s series of blockbuster news stories. At the NSA office in Hawaii where he was working, he copied the last set of documents he intended to disclose. Snowden flew to Hong Kong on May 20 and he has remained there ever since, holed up in a hotel room.
He chose the city because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent,” and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that could and would resist the dictates of Washington. The U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Security bureau refused to comment on Snowden, as did the consulate of Iceland, where Snowden has said he may seek asylum.
Snowden told The Guardian that it was during his CIA stint in Geneva that he thought for the first time about exposing government secrets. By 2007, the CIA stationed him with diplomatic cover in Geneva, Switzerland. His responsibility for maintaining computer network security meant he had clearance to access a wide array of classified documents.
Getting banker drunk
He described as formative an incident in which he claimed CIA operatives were attempting to recruit a Swiss banker to obtain secret banking information. Snowden said they achieved this by purposely getting the banker drunk and encouraging him to drive home in his car. When the banker was arrested for drunk driving, the undercover agent seeking to befriend him offered to help, and a bond was formed that led to successful recruitment. “I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.”
Having watched the Obama administration prosecute whistleblowers at a historically unprecedented rate, he fully expects the U.S. government to attempt to use all its weight to punish him. “I am not afraid,” he said calmly, “because this is the choice I’ve made.” The leaks was one of the most significant security breaches in U.S. history, joining the likes of Bradley Manning, who released U.S. diplomatic cables and war logs to the WikiLeaks website.
In a statement responding to Snowden’s decision to go public, the office of the Director of National Intelligence said the matter had now been “referred to the Department of Justice.”
“Any person who has a security clearance knows that he or she has an obligation to protect classified information and abide by the law.” The Justice Department confirmed it had launched an investigation into the disclosures but declined to further comment. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed on June 8 that the NSA uses a program called PRISM to gather data trails left by targeted foreign citizens using the Internet outside the United States.