You've seen the inflammatory NSA slides, and now you can attach a name to the paperwork: His name is Edward Snowden, he has a ten-year history in government defense and intelligence gathering, and now, he tells The Guardian, he's leaked classified documents because he thinks current NSA surveillance techniques pose "an existential threat to democracy."
"My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them," he told Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald in an interview conducted in Hong Kong.
Snowden is a former CIA technical assistant, and a current employee of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, where he has worked for less than three months according to the company. For the last four years, Snowden has done contract work for the NSA as an employee of various outside firms. In 2003, Snowden enlisted in the U.S. Army to join the Special Forces, but broke both his legs during a training mission, and was discharged. From there, the Guardian reports, Snowden took a job as a security guard for the NSA, and then later joined the CIA to work in IT security before returning to the NSA as a contractor, including his current position as an infrastructure analyst.
In a 12-plus-minute video interview conducted June 6 with Greenwald, Snowden explains his motivations for leaking classified NSA information, though it's worth noting that the now infamous Prism program is never mentioned on camera, nor does the specific program name appear in the accompanying Guardian article.
Nonetheless, Snowden's words on video seem to reaffirm the Post's and Guardian's initial reports that the NSA has deep hooks into Big Tech, including real-time access to the data of American citizens—an assertion that's now being vigorously disputed by Director of Intelligence James R. Clapper. CNET has also quoted an anonymous former government official who says "None of it is true," referring to original reporting by The Guardian and Washinginton Post.
The following three paragraphs contain the meat of Snowden's indictment.
"The NSA and the intelligence community in general is focused on getting intelligence wherever it can, by any means possible," says Snowden in the video. "It believes on the grounds of sort of a self-certification that they serve the national interest. Originally, we saw that focused very narrowly tailored as foreign intelligence gathered overseas. Now, increasingly, we see that it's happening domestically."
"And do to that, they, the NSA specifically targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default. It collects them in its system and it filters them, and analyzes them, and it measures and it stores them for periods of time, simply because that's the easiest, most efficient, and most invaluable way to achieve these ends.
"So, while they may be intending to target someone associated with a foreign government, or someone they suspect of terrorism, they're collecting your communication to do so. An analyst at any time can target anyone. I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge, to even the President if I had a personal email."
Snowden lived in Hawaii before he jumped into the whistleblower abyss. But three weeks ago he copied the documents that were later disclosed, and on May 20 left behind a girlfriend and a salary of roughly $200,000, and flew to Hong Kong, where he remains.
He told the Guardian that he expects to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act for revealing classified information. His words, in fact, took a particularly ominous turn: "Yes, 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. Or they could pay off the Triads. Any of their agents or assets," he told The Guardian.
As of press time, there was no official word from the Obama administration on Snowden's revelation. But speaking on ABC News Sunday morning—just hours before Snowden came clean—House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) telegraphed at least one government position: "Taking a very sensitive classified program that targets foreign persons on foreign lands, and putting just enough out there to be dangerous, is dangerous to us. It's dangerous to our national security, and it violates the oath of which that person took. I absolutely think they should be prosecuted," Rogers said.