The most famous – and possibly the most influential – leaker of classified information in recent times has been revealed: Edward Joseph Snowden, a 29-year-old systems administrator working for defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.
The Guardian newspaper, a British publication, revealed Mr. Snowden’s identity Sunday in an article and a 12-minute videotaped interview recorded in Hong Kong.
The newspaper reported: “The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity.”
"I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," Snowden says in the interview.
Snowden will go down in history as one of America's most consequential whistle-blowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers and WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning.
In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: "I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions," the Guardian reported, but "I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant."
Key takeaways from the interview as listed by Business Insider:
• "The NSA and the intelligence community in general is focused on getting intelligence wherever it can by any means possible. It believes on the grounds of self-certification that they serve the national interest."
• "Any analyst at any time can target anyone ... I sitting at my desk certainly have the authority to wiretap anyone – from you or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the president."
• "This is something that is not our place to decide. The public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong, and I'm willing to go on the record to defend the authenticity of them."
• "Even if you're not doing anything wrong, you're being watched and recorded ... you don't have to have done anything wrong, you simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody – even by a wrong call – and then they can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you've ever made."
According to Sunday’s blockbuster report in the Guardian, Snowden has worked in intelligence for about a decade, first for the Central Intelligence Agency and most recently for civilian contractor Booz Allen Hamilton at a National Security Agency facility in Hawaii. Ten years ago, he had been in the US Army preparing to join Special Forces, but was discharged when he broke both legs in a training accident.
At one point, he worked on computer security for the CIA under diplomatic cover in Switzerland.
Last month, after copying documents he intended to leak, Snowden traveled to Hong Kong, a city he chose because of its “spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent.”
But he has no illusions that he is safe from prosecution for leaking highly classified information that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says has caused “huge, grave damage … to our intelligence capabilities.”
“This is someone who, for whatever reason, has chosen to violate a sacred trust for this country,” Mr. Clapper told NBC News’s Andrea Mitchell Saturday night. “And so I hope we’re able to track down whoever’s doing this, because it is extremely damaging to, and it affects, the safety and security of this country.”
Rather than tracking down Snowden – seen as an unusually damaging leaker by some, a whistle-blowing hero by others – US officials now know who and where he is, since he revealed himself.
"All my options are bad," he says in the recorded interview. “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…. 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 becomes emotional in the interview when he speaks of the impact all of this could have on family members, many of whom also work in government positions.
But, he says, "The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change.”
"People will see in the media all of these disclosures, they'll know the lengths the government is going to grant themselves power unilaterally to create greater control over American society and global society, but they won't be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests."
Speaking to The Washington Post Sunday, Snowden said, “I intend to ask for asylum from any countries that believe in free speech and oppose the victimization of global privacy.”