Edward Snowden biography
Born in North Carolina in 1983, Edward Snowden worked for the National Security Agency through subcontractor Booz Allen in the NSA's Oahu office. After only three months, Snowden began collecting top-secret documents regarding NSA domestic surveillance practices, which he found disturbing. After Snowden fled to Hong Kong, China, newspapers began printing the documents that he had leaked to them, many of them detailing invasive spying practices against American citizens. With the U.S. charging Snowden under the Espionage Act but many groups calling him a hero, Snowden remains in Russia, with the U.S. government working on extradition.
Edward Snowden was born in North Carolina on June 21, 1983, and grew up in Elizabeth City. His mother works for the federal court in Baltimore (the family moved to Ellicott City, Maryland, when Snowden was young) as chief deputy clerk for administration and information technology. Snowden's father, a former Coast Guard officer, lives in Pennsylvania.
Snowden dropped out of high school and studied computers at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland (from 1999 to 2001, and again from 2004 to 2005), later earning a GED. Between his stints at community college, Snowden spent four months (May to September 2004) in the Army Reserves in special-forces training. According to Army sources, he did not complete any training, and Snowden has said that he was discharged after he broke his legs in an accident.
Two years after leaving Anne Arundel for the second time, Snowden landed a job with the National Security Agency as a security guard, which he somehow parlayed into an information-technology job at the Central Intelligence Agency. Snowden has said that in 2007, the CIA stationed him in Geneva, but in 2009 he left to work for private contractors, among them Dell and Booz Allen Hamilton, a tech consulting firm. With Booz Allen, he was shipped off to Japan to work as a subcontractor in an NSA office before being transferred to an office in Hawaii. After only three months with Booz Allen, Snowden would make a decision that would change his life forever.
Blowing the Whistle
While working at the NSA's Oahu office, Snowden began noticing government programs involving the NSA spying on American citizens via phone calls and internet use. Before long, leaving his "very comfortable life" and $200,000 salary behind, in May 2013, Snowden began copying top-secret NSA documents while at work, building a dossier on practices that he found invasive and disturbing. The documents contained vast and damning information on the NSA's domestic surveillance practices, including spying on millions of American citizens under the umbrella of programs such as PRISM.
After he had compiled a large store of documents, Snowden told his NSA supervisor that he needed a leave of absence to undergo treatment for epilepsy, a condition recently diagnosed. He also told his girlfriend that he'd be leaving Hawaii for a few weeks, remaining vague about why.
On May 20, 2013, Snowden took a flight to Hong Kong, China, where he remained during the early stages of the fallout. This fallout began the following month, on June 5, when the United Kingdom's Guardian newspaper released secret documents obtained from Snowden about an American intelligence body (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) demanding that Verizon release information "on a daily basis" culled from its American customers' activities.
The following day, the Guardian and the Washington Times released Snowden's leaked information on PRISM, an NSA program that allows real-time information collection, in this case, solely information on American citizens. A flood of information followed, and the American people, the international community and the U.S. government have since been scrambling to either hear more about it or have Snowden arrested.
"I'm willing to sacrifice [my former life] because I can't in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building," Snowden said after the fact, in a series of interviews given in his Hong Kong hotel room.
The U.S. government saw a different side of the issue, and on June 14, 2013, federal prosecutors charged Snowden with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified intelligence with an unauthorized person. The last two charges fall under the Espionage Act. (Before President Barack Obama took office, the act had only been used for prosecutorial purposes three times since 1917; Since President Obama took office, it had been invoked seven times as of June 2013.)
Snowden remained in hiding for nearly one month, first asking Ecuador for asylum and then fleeing Hong Kong for Russia, whose government has denied the U.S. request to extradite him. By late June 2013, more than 100,000 people had signed an online petition asking Obama to pardon Snowden.
The following month, Snowden made headlines again when it was announced that he had been offered asylum in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia. Around the same time, it was reported that Snowden was "stuck in transit" in Moscow after the U.S. annulled his passport, and that he had not yet made a decision on where, of the countries offering him asylum, he would be relocating.
In late July, Snowden seemed to have made up his mind. He expressed an interest in staying in Russia. One of his lawyers, Anatoly Kucherena, gave an interview with CBS News. Kucherena said that Snowden would seek temporary asylum in Russia and possibly apply for Russian citizenship later. Snowden thanked Russia for giving him asylum and said that "in the end the law is winning."
That October, Snowden revealed that he no longer possessed any of the NSA files that he leaked to press. He gave those materials to the journalists he met with in Hong Kong, but he didn't keep any copies for himself.
Snowden explained that "it wouldn't serve the public interest" for him to have brought the files to Russia, according to The New York Times.
Snowden received some bad news the following month. According to the Guardian newspaper, his request to the U.S. government for clemency was rejected. The United States still wants Snowden to return home and face criminal charges for leaking NSA documents.