The whistleblower essential to the bombshell reports that the National Security Agency has secretly collected the phone and internet records of millions of Americans has been revealed as 29-year-old Edward Snowden, a former CIA worker and current defense contractor employee.
Snowden confirmed his identity to the Washington Post and the Guardian newspaper. He has since left the Hong Kong hotel he was holed up in and his whereabouts are unknown.
Snowden told the Guardian he leaked the information because he "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.”
“My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them,” Snowden said.
The Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation into the NSA leaks, and several members of Congress have called for the aggressive prosecution of Snowden and extradition proceedings as soon as possible. He faces decades in prison if the U.S. prosecutes.
"The United States must make it clear that no country should be granting this individual asylum," Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told The Hill.
In addition to frustration over his actions, many are shocked in regards to the level of classified information an individual like Snowden was exposed to. Snowden joined the army in 2003 after dropping out of high school. He was discharged after breaking his legs while training to join Special Forces, then worked his way up the CIA's IT security ranks, but quit in 2009 when he become disillusioned with the CIA as he did with the army.
Despite the harm that government officials have warned of, legal experts tell Politico they expect that the charges Snowden will face would carry maximum penalties of 10 years a piece.
On 'Real News' Monday the panel discussed how Snowden compares to other high-profile leakers like Bradley Manning, and what could be next for the whistleblower.