Skip to main content

NSA whistleblower reveals himself: 'I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things'

NSA whistleblower reveals himself: 'I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things'

Share this story

NSA Joint Chiefs
NSA Joint Chiefs

The Guardian has published an interview with the NSA whistleblower, who revealed himself as a 29-year-old former technical assistant named Edward Snowden. In recent days, Snowden has leaked top secret NSA documents to The Guardian and the Washington Post detailing the NSA's PRISM and Boundless Informant programs, among others. The Washington Post has confirmed that Snowden was the source of their leaks.

Speaking from Hong Kong, Snowden described himself as a classic whistleblower, motivated by civic duty, a description he also applied to Bradley Manning. "I think the sense of outrage that has been expressed is justified," Snowden told The Guardian. "It has given me hope that, no matter what happens to me, the outcome will be positive for America. I do not expect to see home again, though that is what I want."

Snowden said he still did not think most Americans were aware of the full extent of the NSA's capabilities, describing techniques to plant bugs in computers and identify machines within networks. Contrary to recent claims by the Obama administration, Snowden said most data collection was not the result of individual targets, but that "the NSA specifically targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default." Snowden was also skeptical of the power of the courts to rein in the agency. "Whenever we had a debate in the office on how to handle crimes, they do not defend due process," Snowden said. "They defend decisive action."

Snowden's recent whistleblowing comes after 10 years of government service. He enlisted in the US Army in 2003, and after his military tour, went to work for the NSA, before moving on to the CIA and a host of other private contractors. His most recent job at private defense firm Booz Allen sent him to work alongside the NSA, giving him access to the recently leaked materials.

Snowden's family was apparently still unaware of his actions, but he felt compelled to make his identity public, since he felt he had done nothing wrong. When asked what he thought would happen to him now, Snowden replied, "nothing good."

"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."

Update: Booz Allen has confirmed that Snowden was indeed employed there for "less than three months." Calling the claims "shocking," it said it would help its clients and any other authorities investigate Snowden. The company's full statement is below:

Booz Allen can confirm that Edward Snowden, 29, has been an employee of our firm for less than 3 months, assigned to a team in Hawaii. News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm. We will work closely with our clients and authorities in their investigation of this matter.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has also released a statement, referring to questions about possible legal repercussions to the Department of Justice and saying intelligence authorities were "reviewing the damage" done by Snowden's leaks.

Update: The Washington Post has posted reporter Barton Gellman’s firsthand account of his interactions with Snowden before his article blew the lid off of the NSA’s PRISM program last Thursday. The recounting provides some more insight into the whistleblower's motives; for instance, when asked how he could justify exposing top-secret intelligence documents that could benefit America’s enemies, Snowden wrote to Gellman, "perhaps I am naive, but I believe that at this point in history, the greatest danger to our freedom and way of life comes from the reasonable fear of omniscient state powers kept in check by nothing more than policy documents."

The report reveals that Snowden had originally sought a guarantee from the Post that it would publish his story within 72 hours along with the provision of a cryptographic key that he could use to prove he was the source of the leaked information. Gellman explains that when the Post decided to wait until it had vetted the information with government sources, Snowden decided to contact The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, who also published details of the program on Thursday. "I regret that we weren’t able to keep this project unilateral," wrote Snowden, upon hearing of the Post’s decision.