WASHINGTON - The British newspaper The Guardian on Sunday revealed the identity of the source of its information for a series of articles on surveillance practices by the National Security Agency.
In an article on its website, the newspaper identified the source as Edward Snowden, 29, a former technical assistant for the CIA who has worked at the NSA as an employee of outside contractors.
The British newspaper said it was revealing Snowden’s identity at his request. It said he had decided from the moment he chose to disclose top-secret documents to the public, revealing the highly secretive data surveillance programs, that he would not remain anonymous.
“I have no intention of hiding who I am,” he was quoted as saying, “because I know I have done nothing wrong.” But the newspaper said he was also braced for the U.S. government to “demonize” him.
The Guardian said that Snowden was working at the NSA office in Hawaii three weeks ago when he made final preparations for his disclosures. It said he copied the documents, then advised a supervisor that he needed to be away for “a couple of weeks,” saying he required medical treatment.
He then told his girlfriend that he would be away for a few weeks.
On May 20, the newspaper reported, he boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he remains ensconced in a luxury hotel room. He said he chose that city because of its “spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent.”
The paper said Snowden, fearing that he himself would be the object of spying, lines the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping.
In a video accompanying the Guardian story, Snowden seemed slightly tense but articulate and well-spoken. He wore glasses, a dark gray shirt open at the neck, and sported a slight growth on his chin and upper lip.
Asked what fears he might have about his future, he said, “I could be rendered by the CIA, I could have people come after me.”
“We’ve got a CIA station just up the road in the consulate here in Hong Kong, and I’m sure,” he said with a nervous laugh, “that they’re going to be very busy for the next week, and that’s a fear I’ll live under for the rest of my life.”
But Snowden said that when facing what he called this “architecture of oppression, you realize that you might be willing to accept any risk.”
The Guardian last week reported the existence of a secret government program that collects data from phone calls made on the Verizon network. That newspaper and The Washington Post later reported that a separate program known as Prism was being used to collect Internet data of foreigners from Internet companies like Facebook and Skype. The source of the leaks had remained a mystery, however, generating fervid speculation.
In its account of Snowden’s motivations, The Guardian described him as a man whose patriotism and deep-seated idealism about his country suffered a stinging series of disappointments, leaving him conflicted and finally pushing him to take a step some have described as treason.
After growing up in North Carolina, he moved with his family to Maryland, near NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Md.
Though he never obtained a high school diploma, he studied computing at a community college in Maryland. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2003 and began training to join the Special Forces, he told the newspaper, helping to fight in the Iraq war “to help free people from oppression.”
But his experience was dispiriting, The Guardian reported. “Most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone,” he said. Snowden broke both legs in a training accident and received a discharge.
He then got a job as a security guard at a covert NSA facility at the University of Maryland, soon moving to a computer job with the CIA, rising with unusual speed for someone lacking a high school diploma.
The CIA sent him to Geneva in 2007; he had diplomatic cover and clearance giving him access to classified documents.
But he grew disillusioned there by the tactics he saw agency operatives use in trying to recruit a man to spy on Swiss banks, and he began thinking for the first time about exposing government secrets.
He temporized, however, fearing that his disclosures might endanger someone, and hoping that the election of Barack Obama might bring greater transparency to government.
But after taking a job for a private contractor, and being assigned to an NSA facility on a military base in Japan, he said he watched “as Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in,” adding, “I got hardened.”
He has gradually embraced, with ever-greater fervor, the causes of transparency and Internet freedom.
The Guardian said he had been fully transparent himself when challenged by its reporters to confirm the authenticity of the materials he provided. It said he offered his Social Security number, even his CIA identity number.
Snowden said that he admired both Daniel Ellsberg, the source of the Pentagon Papers, and Bradley Manning, the Army private who has acknowledged providing huge troves of government documents in the WikiLeaks scandal.
But he drew a contrast, saying that “I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest.” He said that “harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.”
Snowden said that he now hopes he might be granted asylum someplace - possibly Iceland - but that he is prepared for whatever happens.
“I feel satisfied that this was all worth it,” he said. “I have no regrets.”