Here’s Everything We Know About the Man Behind the NSA Spying Leak

The NSA leak, who released classified information about two top secret programs, has allowed himself to be identified by The Guardian, which originally broke the leak story last week, and The Washington Post.

But just what do we know about Edward Snowden? What is his background? How was he able to access details about these government spy programs? What are the repercussions for divulging such information?

This image made available by The Guardian Newspaper in London shows an undated image of Edward Snowden, 29. Snowden worked as a contract employee at the National Security Agency and is the source of The Guardian’s disclosures about the U.S. government’s secret surveillance programs, as the British newspaper reported Sunday, June 9, 2013. (Photo: AP/The Guardian, Ewen MacAskill)

Here a few items of interest:

  • He is a 29-year-old high school dropout who holds a GED, originally from Elizabeth City, North Carolina. He told The Guardian that he enlisted in the Army, was dismissed after breaking both legs during a training exercise and later got a job as a security guard at a covert intelligence facility in Maryland. He says he later joined the CIA and was posted under diplomatic cover in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • He worked for consulting companies, including Booz Allen Hamilton, claiming he spent four years working as a contractor with the NSA. In a statement, Booz Allen said the leak is “shocking” and that Snowden worked for them less than three months. Snowden also claimed to have worked for Dell.
  • He told the Guardian he made around $200,000 per year but leaked about NSA’s programs because “There are more important things than money.” He believes the government “granted itself power it is not entitled to.”
Glenn Greenwald, right, a reporter for The Guardian newspaper, speaks to media at a hotel in Hong Kong Monday, June 10, 2013. Greenwald spoke about his interview with Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old contractor who allowed himself to be revealed as the source of disclosures about the U.S. government’s secret surveillance programs. (Photo: AP/Vincent Yu)
  • Booz Allen got 23 percent of its revenue in its most recent fiscal year from intelligence work and the government is its primary client, providing 98 percent of its revenue, according to the New York Times. In 2012, the Washington Post released a report stating that there were 1,931 companies working on counterterror/intelligence/security in the United States, and 854,000 people working for these companies and government agencies had top secret security clearances, which could give them access to sensitive information, provided they are authorized. It can be assumed that Snowden had a top secret clearance, given his line of work, but the leak of such information, Booz Allen said in its statement, is a “grave violation of the code of conduct.”
  • Snowden told the Guardian an analyst working on spy programs he released classified documents about could “target anyone. Any selector. Anywhere.” He said he had the authority to “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal email.”
  • He doesn’t believe he did anything wrong by leaking the classified documents. “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” he told the Guardian.
  • Can we believe his claims? Whistleblowers before Snowden have sung a similar tune, leading many to believe the NSA is actively collecting metadata of communications.
  • He is last known to be hiding out in Hong Kong.
NSA Leak US Consulate Hong Kong
A security guard (L) stands outside the US consulate in Hong Kong on June 10, 2013. Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old US government contractor and the source who leaked details of a vast secret US program to monitor Internet users was reported to be in Hong Kong and remained there ever since, holed up in a hotel room. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images/PHILIPPE LOPEZ)
  • He had been living in Honolulu with his girlfriend but moved out of their home on May 1, leaving for Hong Kong on May 20.
NSA Phone Records Hawaii
A real estate sign stands in front of a home in Waipahu, Hawaii, Sunday, June 9, 2013, where Edward Snowden, source of disclosures about the U.S. government’s secret surveillance programs, lived with his girlfriend until recently. A Hawaii real estate agent says Snowden and his girlfriend moved out of the home near Honolulu on May 1, leaving nothing behind. (Photo: AP/Anita Hofschneider)
  • Some wonder why he chose Hong Kong, because it has a treaty with the United States that guarantees extraditions unless the country thinks the request is politically motivated or that the suspect would not receive a fair trial. Beijing may also block an extradition of Chinese nationals from Hong Kong for national security reasons.
  • The Washington Post reported contacting the Mira Hotel, which confirmed it had housed a guest under the name Edward Snowden but noted that he checked out Monday.
  • He now has a strong following on social media, trending on Twitter with many labeling him as a hero. Many have also established Facebook pages in support of him and even started an official White House petition through the We the People online tool, asking that he be pardoned. As of the time of this posting, the petition had more than 8,800 signatures, needing more than 91,000 by July 9 to earn an official response.
  • If extradited, he could face 10 to 20 years in prison for each count with each leaked document considered a separate charge, national security lawyer Mark Zaid, who represents whistleblowers, told the Associated press.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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