Who is NSA leaker Edward Snowden?

The man responsible for leaking information about secret government cellphone surveillance is a 29-year-old former CIA employee and NSA contractor.

On Sunday, The Guardian revealed that former CIA and National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden, 29, is the man responsible for leaking classified documents about the U.S. government's secret phone surveillance program, thought to be one of the most significant intelligence leaks in American history.

Who is Edward Snowden?

Who is Edward Snowden?
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"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," he told the British paper. "My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them."

Edward Snowden

  • Snowden, 29, was raised in Elizabeth City, N.C. He later relocated with his family to Ellicott City, Md., according to NBC News.
  • According to The Washington Post, public records show that Snowden's mother is a deputy clerk for the U.S. District Court in Maryland.
  • Snowden has said his only fear is for his family. "The only thing I fear is the harmful effects on my family, who I won't be able to help anymore," he told The Guardian. That's what keeps me up at night."
  • Snowden did not graduate from high school and attended an unnamed community college in Maryland where he studied computing, but did not complete his coursework. Snowden later earned his GED, according to the Post.
  • In 2003, Snowden enlisted in the Army with intentions of joining the Special Forces. He was discharged after breaking both legs in a training accident.
  • Snowden allegedly got his foot in the door at the NSA by working as a security guard at one of the agency's clandestine facilities at the University of Maryland, The Guardian reported.
  • A deft computer programmer, Snowden later began working in information technology security for the CIA, according to The Guardian.
  • In 2007, the CIA reportedly sent Snowden to work in Geneva, where he was given a high-security clearance. He told the Guardian he first began questioning the role of the CIA and its surveillance programs while in Switzerland.
  • Snowden left the CIA and began working for Dell (which refused comment) and then private defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton in 2009, which confirmed Snowden's employment. While at Booz, Snowden was assigned to work at NSA facilities in Japan and Hawaii. He told the Guardian he lived comfortably, making nearly $200,000 per year.
  • Snowden was living in Waipahu, Hawaii, with his girlfriend last month when he copied the last documents and information he would release to The Washington Post and The Guardian. Neighbors told the Post that Snowden and his girlfriend were noticeably standoffish and regularly avoided conversation. 
  • He told The Guardian that he hoped the surveillance programs, which began under the George W. Bush administration, would be curtailed by President Barack Obama. When the cellphone and Internet surveillance programs were expanded by Obama, Snowden said he felt compelled to expose them and protect Americans' privacy.
  • Snowden told The Guardian that he has long been a champion of Internet freedom. His laptop is emblazoned with a sticker that reads: "I support Online Rights: Electronic Frontier Foundation."
  • According to the Post, Snowden gave $500 to Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign.
  • Neighbors told the Post that Snowden and his girlfriend mysteriously packed up and disappeared from Hawaii in May. Since May 20, Snowden has been in Hong Kong alone. He told NSA supervisors that he was taking time off to receive treatment for epilepsy, which he was diagnosed with last year following a series of seizures. According to the Post, Snowden's mother also suffers from epilepsy.
  • Hong Kong is a Chinese territory that enjoys relative autonomy. The country does have an extradition treaty with the U.S., however. According to The Associated Press, the extradition documents contain exceptions for political crimes, though AP sources said it's unlikely China would want to destabilize its relationship with the United States over Snowden, who has little political relevance in China.
  • If extradited, Snowden faces considerable jail time for possible treason and aiding the enemy.


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