"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.