In the interest of revealing what he saw as the privacy violations of millions of Americans by their own government, Edward Snowden, 29, has likely forfeited his future at an age when most young adults are still shaping the arc of their lives.
A high school dropout turned analyst with high-level security clearance, he’s now a wanted man whose name is Googled around the globe and face flashed on airport television screens from Washington to Hong Kong, where he fled before he identified himself as the source of leaks revealing the National Security Administration’s programs to electronically monitor citizens.
Bespectacled and serious in the videotaped interview with the journalists who broke his story, Mr. Snowden is now a hot topic of debate: Whistleblower or traitor? Will he be extradited? Face jail time?
So who is he? What life does he leave behind?
Before embarking for Hong Kong, Snowden was living in Hawaii – “paradise,” he called it – with a girlfriend, Lindsay Mills. Together, they rented a three-bedroom home in the Waipahu community on the island of Oahu, according to USA Today.
As for Ms. Mills, news outlets reported Tuesday, she is “an acrobatic pole performer” who blogged about her peripatetic life with Snowden, whom she called “E.” She aired her heartache publicly on a blog that has since been dismantled. Her comments suggested – and Snowden similarly told The Guardian – that she didn’t know of his plans.
“Surely there will be villainous pirates, distracting mermaids, and tides of change in this new open water chapter of my journey,” she wrote, according to ABC News. “But at the moment all I can feel is alone. And for the first time in my life I feel strong enough to be on my own. Though I never imagined my hand would be so forced.”
Snowden, who was born in North Carolina, spent much of his childhood in Maryland, where his mother, Elizabeth Snowden, is chief deputy clerk for administration and information technology for US District Court in Baltimore.
She filed for divorce from his father, Lonnie Glenn Snowden Jr., in February 2001. Neighbors told The Baltimore Sun that she is “lovely” and that her son was “a quiet young man who spent a lot of time on his computer.”
Ms. Snowden is avoiding reporters outside her Maryland subdivision. Her ex-husband, now living in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, is a former Coast Guard official who told ABC that he was still "digesting and processing" the news about his son.
Snowden dropped out of high school after a year and a half, and an individual with his name took classes at Anne Arundel Community College for six years, from 1999 to 2005, but failed to receive a degree or certificate, The Sun reports.
A stint with the CIA as a “senior adviser” – his words to The Guardian – ended after two years, according to The Sun. But the job helped him leverage his experience in the consulting world. Enter Booz Allen.
But now, no job, no girl, no paradise. And no country. Snowden is on the run.
"I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded," he said in his interview with The Guardian.
His every move to date is likely under intense scrutiny, however, as officials weigh criminal charges against him – the first step in getting Snowden either extradited or deported.
Awaiting him is a hero’s welcome in some quarters – 22,000 people have already signed an electronic petition asking that Snowden be pardoned – as well as a major legal battle.
“I hope we follow Mr. Snowden to the ends of the earth to bring him to justice,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina.
House Speaker John Boehner has also weighed in, calling Snowden "a traitor."
White House press secretary Jay Carney suggested that while he couldn’t remark on the specifics of the Snowden situation because it is under investigation, "leaks of sensitive, classified information that cause harm to our national security interests are a problem, a serious problem."
Information is "classified for a reason," Carney said.
A warm public homecoming is unlikely, and mercy, it appears, is not on the minds of government officials.