The source behind the leak of the top-secret NSA surveillance program – one of the most significant leaks in US history – has been revealed. A 29-year-old former CIA contractor Edward Snowden has fled to Hong Kong to avoid the fate of Bradley Manning.
The former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee
of the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, had asked the
Guardian to reveal his identity and had never planned on hiding.
“I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” he said in an interview.
Snowden predicts that the government will launch an investigation against him, however it was “a matter of principle” for him because he believes that the people should know how the government intrudes into their privacy. According to Snowden he acted out of a desire to protect "basic liberties" and to “send a message to government that people will not be intimidated.”
“I can't in good conscience allow the US government to destroy
privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around
the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly
building,” said the whistleblower.
Snowden leaked top-secret documents to The Guardian that included
the existence of a US National Security Agency’s extensive spying
program called PRISM. The program was designed to collect
information about digital communications allowing real-time
online surveillance of US citizens.
According to the leaked information it gives “direct access” to files from the servers of major internet companies including Google and Facebook. The spying program was allegedly targeted to identify “folks who might engage in terrorism,” according to US president Barack Obama, who noted that American citizens should be prepared to trade some of their freedoms for more safety.
Snowden said he is willingly sacrificing his very comfortable life with a family he loves and a stable career with a salary of around $200,000. "My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them."
A former MI5 agent Annie Machon believes that Snowden will be the first of a series of modern whistleblowers who learnt from the terrible tragedy of the Bradley Manning case.
“The way he has run the whole exposure and disclosure of the crimes of the NSA and what they are doing against the American people and the rest of the world people has been very sophisticated. And I take heart from that. The fact that he has fled the USA, he is now in Hong Kong. The fact that he has been working with journalists of Glenn Greenwald's caliber,” Machon told RT. “I think it’s been very, very well done. I would call this Whistleblowing 2.0.”
The revelation of the whistleblowers identity comes after NSA filed a leak investigation report on Sunday to the Justice Department for it to launch a criminal case into the breach of security. The leaks also come amid US Army Private Bradley Manning’s trial on charges of transmitting classified materials connected with US military operations abroad to the WikiLeaks website. The Obama administration has aggressively pursued whistleblowers and Snowden expects the government to pursue him, however he states that he “is not afraid , because this is the choice I've made.”
Until three weeks ago Snowden worked in a NSA office in Hawaii. There he made final preparations, copied the final set of documents he planned to leak and on May 20 boarded a flight to Hong Kong. At work he explained that he needed time off for treatment for epilepsy, a condition he was diagnosed with last year.
Snowden told the paper that he chose Hong Kong because it is the place that could and would “resist the dictates of the US government” and the city has “a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent.”
He has been living in a hotel ever since and only left the room about three times during his entire stay as he is afraid of being spied on.
“I could be rendered by the CIA. I could have people come after me. Or any of the third-party partners. They work closely with a number of other nations. Or they could pay off the Triads. Any of their agents or assets,” he said. “We have got a CIA station just up the road – the consulate here in Hong Kong – and I am sure they are going to be busy for the next week.”
“And that is a concern I will live with for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be.”
Snowden anticipates that he will be charged with breaking the
Espionage Act and helping the enemies, “but that can be used
against anyone who points out how massive and invasive the system
has become" the whistleblower notes.
Snowden was discharged from the army after a training accident, and got a job as a security guard at the NSA facility at the University of Maryland in College Park. His next role was with the CIA on IT security. In 2007 he was stationed in Geneva, Switzerland, where he maintained computer network security for the CIA.
Snowden was brought up originally in Elizabeth City, North Carolina before his family moved to Maryland. He was not an excellent pupil as he never graduated from the school he attended, though he later obtained his GED. In 2003, he enlisted in the US army as he wanted to fight in Iraq and “help free people from oppression”. Though after the army his political beliefs shifted as he understood that he was mistaken about the purpose of the war. “Most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone,” he said.
“Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world,” he told The Guardian. “I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.”
Snowden said that in Switzerland the idea of leaking government information first came to mind, however he hoped that the election of Barack Obama in 2008 would reform the government’s policy.
“Most of the secrets the CIA has are about people, not machines and systems, so I didn't feel comfortable with disclosures that I thought could endanger anyone.”
Within the next three years he came to the conclusion that the NSA's surveillance would soon, ultimately, pose an “existential threat to democracy.” He chose to blow the whistle in spite of the risks involved.
“I don't want to live in a world where there's no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity” the whistleblower told the paper.
“That is not something I am willing to support or live