Why Edward Snowden Leaked the Secret NSA Information

The Guardian has revealed the identity of the man who leaked information about the NSA's surveillance programs, PRISM and Boundless Informant. Meet Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old defense contractor employee who's worked for the NSA for four years.

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(This post on a developing story has been updated with more information) 

 The Guardian has revealed the identity of the man who leaked information about the NSA's surveillance programs, PRISM and Boundless Informant. Meet Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old defense contractor employee who's worked for the NSA for four years.

Snowden is currently employed by defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, where he makes around $200,000, and has worked at the NSA office in Hawaii for four years. "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," he said in a taped interview with Greenwald. He used to work for the CIA as a technical assistant. He's an American citizen with a girlfriend and a house in Hawaii. But on May 20, he told his boss he needed to take a few weeks off work. He got on a plane and flew to Hong Kong, where he's been holed up in a hotel room ever since (UPDATE: he may have left his home as early as May 1, according to the AP). He explained his motivations for leaking the NSA information in a note:

In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: "I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions," but "I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant."

Snowden realizes he's risking his life -- his house, his freedom, his girlfriend -- by leaking this information. "I'm willing to sacrifice all of that because I can't in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building," he said.

Earlier in the day, Greenwald discretely previewed his big reveal during his interview on ABC's This Week by detailing his leaker's motivations. "They risked their careers and their lives and their liberty because what they were seeing being done in secret inside the United States government is so alarming and so pernicious that they simply want one thing," Greenwald said on This Week. "That is, for the American people at least to learn about what this massive spying apparatus is, and what the capabilities are, so that we can have an open, honest debate about whether that’s the kind of country that we want to live in."

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told NBC's Andrea Mitchell the agency has ordered a criminal investigation into Snowden's leaks. "For me, it is literally – not figuratively – literally gut-wrenching to see this happen because of the huge, grave damage it does to our intelligence capabilities," Clapper said. The criminal investigation doesn't seem to bother Snowden. He thinks the U.S. are going to come after him by any means necessary, up to and including paying off gangs to go after him. "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 Greenwald.

Hong Kong and the U.S. have a bilateral extradition policy, but Snowden is confident the government there will stand up for him. "They have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent," he tells Greenwald. We've laid out what's next for Snowden in more detail here. And it doesn't look like he'll be going it alone, unless he wants to: soon after he revealed himself, the International Modern Media Institute offered to help Snowden seek asylum in Iceland, where pretty robust whistleblower protection laws are in place.

Meanwhile, some have started weighing in on the inevitable debate of Snowden's motives and character. USA Today's editorial board, for one are officially Team Snowden. Their piece, posted late Sunday, asks and answers its own question: is Snowden a hero, or a villain? Here's their take: 

Now that the story has a face, the answer could say a lot about how it ends -- with Snowden in chains and the government continuing its spying without restraint, or with Snowden lionized and the government backing off. If purity of motive is the measure -- and if Snowden's account of his actions holds up -- he might well fit the hero's mold.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.