Former CIA technical assistant Edward Snowden revealed himself as the NSA data-mining whistleblower to The Guardian Sunday, explaining that the National Security Agency’s infrastructure monitoring of nearly every form of communication disturbed him enough to act.
“If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards,” said Snowden. “I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded.”
The NSA makes no distinction between friendly and hostile countries, according to Snowden, and its reach is essentially unlimited.
“You are not even aware of what is possible,” said Snowden. “The extent of their capabilities is horrifying. We can plant bugs in machines. Once you go on the network, I can identify your machine. You will never be safe no matter what protections you put in place.”
The 29-year-old told The Guardian he enlisted in the Special Forces to fight in the Iraq War in 2003: “I wanted to fight … because I felt like I had an obligation as a human being to help free people from oppression.”
His vague aspirations did not survive contact with combat training and after breaking both legs in a training accident, he was discharged and began working at the NSA, and later the CIA.
Snowden did not vote for Obama in 2008, but “believed his promises” — and therefore held onto the leak until Obama assumed office. After years passed and the Obama administration continued to implement the policies Snowden deplored, Snowden says he chose to act.
He decided to leak documents based on their relevance to “the public interest,” carefully reviewing each one.
“There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal,” Snowden said. “Transparency is.”
Snowden freely gave up his anonymity. “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” he told The Guardian.
He did, however, leave behind what he characterized as a “very comfortable life” with a home in Hawaii, a $200,000 salary, a girlfriend and family members.
Snowden finished copying the last set of leaked documents three weeks ago and told his supervisor he needed to take a medical leave to treat his epilepsy.
He then boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he currently resides in a hotel room, watching the media explosion from afar.
Snowden, perhaps one of the generation’s most influential whistleblowers, has no high school diploma. He sits in his hotel room, propped up with pillows and places a red hood over his laptop to stop any cameras from watching him enter his passwords.
He hopes Iceland will grant him asylum and Hong Kong will not extradite him, but he believes his future is uncertain.
Most of all, he fears his family, friends and girlfriend will be targeted.
“All of my options are bad,” he told The Guardian. “We have got a CIA station just up the road … and I am sure they are going to be busy for the next week. And that is a concern I will live with for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be.”