Edward Snowden

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Edward Snowden

Template:TOCnestleft Edward Snowden , high school dropout who became a whiz at information technology, Edward Snowden was the son of parents who divorced in 2001, the year he turned 18.

Twelve years later, he would catapult to worldwide fame as one of the most significant leakers of U.S. secrets in history and Americans were debating whether he was a patriotic defender of civil liberties or the most unprincipled of traitors.

Snowden stepped from the shadows and admitted that he had exposed the U.S. government's top-secret surveillance programs to Britain's Guardian newspaper and the Washington Post after working in Hawaii for a company under contract to the National Security Agency.

Snowden, 29, saw his role more clearly, saying the U.S. government's powers of surveillance have grown so immense and intrusive that he felt compelled to denounce them, even at great personal cost. He could have remained anonymous but said his message would resonate more powerfully if he revealed his identity.

"The public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong," Snowden told the Guardian in the 12-minute video introducing him to the world. [1]


As a youth in the Washington suburb of Fort Meade, Maryland, Snowden attended local schools, but dropped out of Arundel High School about halfway through his sophomore year, said school spokesman Bob Mosier. Ad Feedback

Snowden's parents divorced when he was 18 and they lived in Crofton, Maryland, a planned community where many NSA employees and their families live.

Snowden told the Guardian he joined the military with the idea of aiding the U.S. war effort in Iraq and to "help free people from oppression." He lasted only four months after breaking both legs in a training exercise, he said. Pentagon records show he enlisted in the Army Reserve as a special forces recruit, entering in May 2004 and leaving four months later without completing his training.

Later he landed his first job in a covert NSA facility by working as a security guard, Snowden said. He then went to the CIA in information technology security, rising quickly because of his understanding of the Internet and his computer programming skills, he told the Guardian.

By 2007, the CIA had stationed him with diplomatic cover in Geneva, Switzerland, where he maintained computer network security, he told the Guardian.

His experience there and working alongside CIA officers gradually led him to question his own role in the government.

With time, Snowden told the Guardian, he could no longer live "unfreely but comfortably" as a well-paid infrastructure analyst for Booz Allen Hamilton, a company hired by the NSA to manage its surveillance system.

He said he was "willing to accept any risk" by revealing top secrets and left his live-in girlfriend.[2]

Support from right and left

Among the telling details on the public record was Snowden's support for Ron Paul, the libertarian U.S. politician who has run unsuccessfully for the Republican Party's presidential nomination.

Campaign finance records showed Snowden twice donated $250 to Paul's 2012 campaign, which was based largely on the principle that government has grown too meddlesome and intruded on personal freedom.

A fund started on the online fundraising platform Crowdtilt had raised more than $8,100 by Monday afternoon, saying the cash would support Snowden for any expenses, such as hotels and airfare.

Separately, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee said it was raising money for his legal defense. An online petition asking the White House to pardon Snowden accumulated some 26,550 signatures.

There was an angry backlash as well. Some denounced him as a anti-American spy.

One U.S. counterterrorism official was worried by reports that Snowden handled or had access to CIA and NSA communications in Geneva and Japan, two vital listening posts.

"He might be young, but this is not exactly a low-level guy. He's privy to a lot. What scares me is what else he knows, and if the Chinese will get to him," said the official, who is regularly briefed on reports under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official noted that the information Snowden leaked was "top secret," compared to lower-level "secret" information that Manning admitted he provided to WikiLeaks. "So this is a lot more damaging," the official said.[3]

Fleeing to Hong Kong

When Ed Snowden arrived at Hong Kong International Airport, he was carrying four computers that enabled him to gain access to some of the US government's most highly-classified secrets.

Just over three weeks later, he was the world's most famous spy, whistleblower and fugitive, responsible for the biggest intelligence breach in recent US history. News organisations around the globe have described him as "America's Most Wanted". Members of Congress have denounced him as a "defector" whose actions amount to treason and have demanded he be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Snowden, aged 29, had flown to Hong Kong from Hawaii, where he had been working for the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton at the National Security Agency, the biggest spy surveillance organisation in the world. Hong Kong-based journalists, joined by the international press, have been hunting for him. At the height of the search, reporters recruited Twitter followers to see if they could successfully identify the lighting and other hotel furnishings shown in the video in which he went public. They did: the $330-a-night Mira Hotel, on Nathan Road, the busy main shopping drag in Kowloon district.

Knowing it was only a matter of time before he was found, Snowden checked out at lunchtime on Monday June 10. It is thought he went to a safe house.

The documents Bradley Manning released were merely "classified". Snowden's were not only "Top Secret", but circulation was extremely limited.

For an American, the traditional home for the kind of story Snowden was planning to reveal would have been the New York Times. But during extensive interviews last week with a Guardian team, he recalled how dismayed he had been to discover the Times had a great scoop in election year 2004 – that the Bush administration, post 9/11, allowed the NSA to snoop on US citizens without warrants – but had sat on it for a year before publishing.[4]

Why Hong Kong?

Snowden fled to Hong Kong because he believed he wouldn't get a fair trial in his home country, the journalist who broke the story says.

Glenn Greenwald, of the British-based Guardian newspaper, said Edward Snowden chose the semiautonomous Chinese region because it was the least bad option open to him.

Greenwald said in an interview that Snowden wants to remain out of the "clutches" of the US government for as long as possible but is fully aware that he won't succeed.

"If the Justice Department does end up indicting him, which almost certainly it will - it's basically inevitable at this point - he doesn't really trust the judicial system in the United States to give him a fair trial," Greenwald said in Hong Kong.

"I think if he trusted the political system and the political culture in the United States he would have just remained there and said 'I did what I did and I want to defend it'," Greenwald said.

He said Snowden chose Hong Kong because it has a history of strong political activism, free speech and respect for the rule of law. But he added that once Snowden decided to leak the information, "all of the options, as he put it, are bad options. There were no good options for him".

Snowden believes he will eventually end up with the same fate as Bradley Manning, the US Army private on trial for handing a trove of classified material to WikiLeaks.

"I think that his goal is to avoid ending up in the clutches of the US government for as long as he can, knowing full well though that it's very likely that he won't succeed and he will end up exactly where he doesn't want to be," Greenwald said.[5]

Why Greenwald?

For Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, was not a random pick to publish his findings. Greenwald has been known for his critical stance on intrusions on privacy and the government trampling on personal rights for the sake of protecting national security.

“The wall of secrecy behind which they operate is impenetrable and it is a real menace to democracy,” said Greenwald.

The Guardian interviewed Snowden, who never intended to remain in the shadows.

"There are dozens of stories generated by the documents he provided, and we intend to pursue every last one of them," Greenwald said.

However, Greenwald and The Guardian was not the only option Snowden considered. The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman claimed that ex-CIA technical assistant also contacted him about the story.

Gellman said Snowden was asking if the Post would publish within 72 hours the full contents of a presentation he had made about the collection of electronic activity from the Silicon Valley companies.

From his side, Gellman said he could not guarantee this and the Post sought the government's views about whether the information would harm national security. Despite the WP eventually agreeing to publish just a small part of Snowden’s information, the informer suddenly backed away, writing that he regretted that “we weren't able to keep this project unilateral, Gellman said. [6]

Will fight extradition

June 12, 2012, Ex-CIA staffer whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed fresh details of US surveillance to a Chinese newspaper. He also vowed to fight any extradition attempt from Hong Kong. Snowden spoke from the secret location as his whereabouts remain unknown.

The interview to the South China Morning Post is the first time whistleblower Edward Snowden had spoken to the press since disclosing his identity as being behind highly sensitive leaks revealing details of the US’s NSA spy program.

“Today, he reveals: more explosive details on US surveillance targets, his plans for the immediate future, the steps he claims the US has taken since he broke cover in Hong Kong, his fears for his family,” the newspaper claims, however not giving particular details.

The revelations generated headlines across the globe, prompting both praise and condemnation.

"I'm neither traitor nor hero. I'm an American," Snowden said.

The whistleblower also said that the US has hacked computers in Hong Kong and mainland China since 2009. Snowden estimated that the NSA has conducted approximately 61,000 cyber-attacks, with targets spanning the globe.

“We hack network backbones – like huge Internet routers, basically – that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one,” Snowden said.

Snowden confessed to leaking classified information from Hong Kong, to which he fled on May 20 from Hawaii. A former technical assistant for the Central Intelligence Agency, Snowden’s last occupation was as a defense contractor at Booz Allen Hamilton.

He earlier said he chose Hong Kong because this city has "a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent."

Snowden was last seen Tuesday while checking out of a Hong Kong hotel, according to witnesses. However, his location remains unknown.

“People who think I made a mistake in picking HK as a location misunderstand my intentions. I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality,” the Post cited him as saying.

Snowden earlier said he was also considering asylum in Iceland, while Russian authorities said they would consider granting him political asylum if requested.

Justice Department officials had reportedly begun the process of charging Edward Snowden with leaking classified National Security Agency documents, but no extradition request had yet been filed.

Snowden vowed to fight any extradition attempt by the US government.

“My intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate. I have been given no reason to doubt your system.”[7]

Accusations countered

Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA director and head of the US Cyber Commander, told the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee that the collection of personal data pertaining to millions of Americans helped the NSA thwart a number of terror plots from ever unfolding both domestically and abroad.

“Its dozens of terrorist events that these have helped prevent,” Alexander told Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) during the hearing.

Wednesday’s hearing on the Hill was scheduled to focus heavily on Alexander’s role with protecting the US cyber infrastructure, but the NSA scandal exposed less than a week earlier took center stage shortly after the general finished reading his opening remarks and Sen. Leahy began grilling him over a leaked program called PRISM and another surveillance operation that intercepts the online communications of US citizens. Soon other lawmakers joined in, using the opportunity to speak with the Obama administration cyber czar about PRISM and other claims made by 29-year-old NSA leaker Edward Snowden, including that he could “wiretap anyone, from you or your account to a federal judge to even the president” from the NSA’s systems.

“False,” Alexander answered Congress of the allegation. “I know of no way to do that.” [8]

Was he aided?

In March 2013, when Edward Snowden sought a job with Booz Allen Hamilton at a National Security Agency facility in Hawaii, he signed the requisite classified-information agreements and would have been made well aware of the law regarding communications intelligence.

Section 798 of the United States Code makes it a federal crime if a person "knowingly and willfully communicates, furnishes, transmits, or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person, or publishes, or uses in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States" any classified information concerning communication intelligence.

Snowden took that position so he could arrange to have published classified communications intelligence. The point of Mr. Snowden's penetration was to get classified data from the NSA. He subsequently stated: "My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked, that is why I accepted that position."

Before taking the job in Hawaii, Mr. Snowden was in contact with people who would later help arrange the publication of the material he purloined. Two of these individuals, filmmaker Laura Poitras and Guardian blogger Glenn Greenwald, were on the Board of the Freedom of the Press Foundation that, among other things, funds WikiLeaks.

In January 2013, according to the Washington Post, Mr. Snowden requested that Ms. Poitras get an encryption key for Skype so that they could have a secure channel over which to communicate.

In February, he made a similar request to Mr. Greenwald, providing him with a step-by-step video on how to set up encrypted communications.

So, before Mr. Snowden proceeded with his NSA penetration in March 2013 through his Booz Allen Hamilton job, he had assistance, either wittingly or unwittingly, in arranging the secure channel of encrypted communications that he would use to facilitate the publication of classified communications intelligence.

On May 20, three months into his job, Mr. Snowden falsely claimed to his employer that he needed treatment for epilepsy. The purpose of the cover story was to conceal his trip to Hong Kong, where the operation to steal U.S. secrets would be brought to fruition.

Mr. Greenwald and Ms. Poitras also flew to Hong Kong. They were later joined by Sarah Harrison, a WikiLeaks representative who works closely with Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder. Mr. Snowden reportedly brought the misappropriated data to Hong Kong on four laptops and a thumb drive. He gave some of the communications intelligence to Mr. Greenwald, who had arranged to publish it in the Guardian, and Mr. Snowden arranged to have Ms. Poitras make a video of him issuing a statement that would be released on the Guardian's website. Albert Ho, a Hong Kong lawyer, was retained to deal with Hong Kong authorities.

This orchestration did not occur in a vacuum. Airfares, hotel bills and other expenses over this period had to be paid. A safe house had to be secured in Hong Kong. Lawyers had to be retained, and safe passage to Moscow—a trip on which Mr. Snowden was accompanied by WikiLeaks' Sarah Harrison—had to be organized.[9]

Asylum in Russia

The former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden left Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on August 1, 2013 and took a taxi to a secret location. He now has temporary asylum in Russia for a year.

On August 2, Life News website published a photograph showing Snowden smiling broadly as he walked through the airport with a rucksack on his back and carrying another bag.

He was shown accompanied by his Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, and a staff member of WikiLeaks anti-secrecy website, Sarah Harrison, as well as an unidentified dark-haired woman.

Snowden and Harrison had stayed in the transit zone of the Sheremetyevo airport north of Moscow since flying in from Hong Kong on June 23.

Kucherena said Snowden would eventually emerge into public view and give media interviews, but that the fugitive first required an "adaptation course" after so long in the transit zone.

"He has sorted out where he will live, everything is fine," Kucherena told the RIA Novosti news agency on Friday, refusing to give further details.

WikiLeaks said in a statement Snowden is now in a "secure, confidential place".

Snowden thankedd Russia and slammed the administration of US President Barack Obama for having "no respect" for international or domestic law.

"But in the end the law is winning," he said in the WikiLeaks statement.

Russia's decision to award Snowden asylum status came two days after US soldier Bradley Manning was convicted of espionage for passing US secrets to WikiLeaks.[10]

Three visitors

Three men flew from Berlin to Moscow, were taken in a car with tinted glass windows to a secret location - where they met Edward Snowden and his partner-in- (alleged)-crime, Sarah Harrison.

Trio leader was Hans-Christian Stroebele, 74, Bundestag representative from a mixed East-West Berlin electoral district, the only Green Party delegate directly elected (four times); the other 62 got in thanks to Germany's proportional representation system. Anyone joining in anti-war rallies recognizes the rather haggard-looking man who - until recently - always arrived pedaling a bike. He was always (or almost always) the Green deputy opposing wars in Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Patriot missiles for Israel, who fought hardest against anti-foreigner discrimination (even supporting the right of immigrant-rooted police officers to wear turbans or head cloths and a Turkish version of Germany's national anthem. A constant thorn in the side of war-happy Green Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (1998-2005), he has (almost) always been a maverick, well to the left of other Green leaders. And as a maverick he flew to Moscow.

Hans-Christian Stroebele handed Edward Snowden the Honorary Diploma of the Whistleblower Award 2013

Sharing the fruit, fish and other Russian delicacies - and the scoop - was Georg Mascolo, 50, Italian-German journalist, a former correspondent in the USA and editor of Der Spiegel (before getting fired after two years), and also the American journalist John Goetz, 52, born in New York, a TV-journalist in Berlin since 1989 and also writing for a leading Munich newspaper.

Goetz's big scoop in 1993 revealed that the German government was still paying pensions to Latvia's Nazi SS veterans, who held militant marches in Riga every year while veterans of the Red Army and the few Jewish survivors in Latvia were cruelly ignored or short-changed. As a result, the pensions were finally halted (unfortunately not the parades).

He later exposed the financial shenanigans of a slippery arms dealer profiting from deals between manufacturers in Canada and rightwing Bavarian politicians, did a series on Germany's secret assistance to the US war in Iraq (despite official abstention) and helped expose "extraordinary renditions" by US planes across Germany to secret torture locations. His first impression of Snowden: "A slight fellow, short, quite thin, black suit, blue shirt, with angular glasses too large for his face." But then came the questions and frank, honest, impressive answers. And an offer of assistance.

Stroebele passed on Snowden's letter to the German government, expressing willingness to testify as an expert witness on NSA spying directed against Germany - and Chancellor Angela Merkel. The one stipulation about coming to Germany was that he be guaranteed freedom from extradition to the USA and, since Russia might then rescind his current status, a right of asylum.

But the chances of such a visit soon dropped to near zero. When it was revealed that Merkel's mobile phone was tapped by NSA -- like those of millions of other Germans - she had spoken out far more angrily than is customary for the usually mild-toned German "Mutti" (Mama). But, very predictably, while still mumbling that "Such practices must be altered" she had her office explain that, after all, "the transatlantic alliance is of overwhelming importance to us Germans" and it was soon announced that a delegation of US Congress members would fly over to voice their regrets and try to repair damaged fences. In such a romantic, Atlantic relationship Snowden would only be in the way.

In late October 2010 a group decided on an initiative to communalize the city's power supply, which meant buying it back from the giant Swedish enterprise Vattenfall. Their slogan: "Democratic (city-owned), ecological and social (lower prices)". The group, which eventually included fifty organizations, received the backing of all three opposition parties in the Berlin House of Representatives, the LINKE (Left) party, the Greens and the Pirates and, after some negotiation, also the Social Democrats, the leading party in the ruling Senate (the name of the city government). Only the Christian Democrats, also in the governing coalition, rejected the idea. It looked as if the law repossessing the power supply of the city could easily pass a vote.

But then the Social Democrats, bowing to their right wing coalition partners, turned tail and reneged on the plan. This meant that far more signatures were required in a new campaign to obtain a referendum of all Berliners. A powerful campaign was initiated, obtaining between February and June 2013 over 271,000 signatures; 228,000 were ruled valid, a huge triumph, which meant that a referendum of Berlin voters must now take place.[11]