Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old NSA contractor and ex-CIA employee, has revealed that he is behind the series of leaks that have appeared in the Guardian and Washington Post this weekend, which detailed top-secret, over-reaching, and arguably criminal surveillance programs run by America's spies with the cooperation of the Obama administration.
Snowden says he always intended to come forward after the leaks, and to face down the consequences of his actions. He describes himself as a disillusioned Obama supporter who was disappointed after the 2008 election to see America double down on the overreaching spying programs that had worried him when he was with the CIA. He is giving up a comfortable life with a $200,000 salary, a girlfriend, and a home in Hawai'i to blow the whistle on what he views as immoral, out-of-control spy programs. He says he does not want to be at the center of this story; he wants the focus to be on the government's actions.
He is holed up in a hotel in Hong Kong that he has barely left for three weeks. He takes extreme measures to avoid potential eavesdropping and hidden cameras. He believes he will be arrested or possibly killed, and enumerates many ways that this could happen — rendered by the CIA, imprisoned by the Chinese government, murdered by Tong gangsters or other criminals working for American or Chinese intelligence agencies. But he says he is not afraid, and stands by his choice.
He predicts the government will launch an investigation and "say I have broken the Espionage Act and helped our enemies, but that can be used against anyone who points out how massive and invasive the system has become".
The only time he became emotional during the many hours of interviews was when he pondered the impact his choices would have on his family, many of whom work for the US government. "The only thing I fear is the harmful effects on my family, who I won't be able to help any more. That's what keeps me up at night," he said, his eyes welling up with tears…
…But he believed that the value of the internet, along with basic privacy, is being rapidly destroyed by ubiquitous surveillance. "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."
Once he reached the conclusion that the NSA's surveillance net would soon be irrevocable, he said it was just a matter of time before he chose to act. "What they're doing" poses "an existential threat to democracy", he said…
…For him, it is a matter of principle. "The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to," he said.
His allegiance to internet freedom is reflected in the stickers on his laptop: "I support Online Rights: Electronic Frontier Foundation," reads one. Another hails the online organisation offering anonymity, the Tor Project.
He may not see himself as a hero, but I do. Thank you, Mr Snowden.
Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind revelations of NSA surveillance [Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras/The Guardian]
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: 'I do not expect to see home again' [Q&A/The Guardian]