A former technical worker for the NSA, CIA, and various defense contractors revealed himself on Sunday as the source of top-secret U.S. government documents, exposed by the Guardian and the Washington Post last week, that confirmed sweeping surveillance of American citizens by the National Security Agency and other federal agencies.
Edward Snowden, 29, was interviewed by the Guardian in Hong Kong, where he fled after leaking the confidential NSA documents that show the extent of the agency’s collation of Americans’ phone and Internet communications. He said he leaked the documents because he does not “want to live in a society that does these sort of things.”
“I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded,” he said. “That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”
Facing the threat of reprisal from the Obama administration, Snowden says he plans to seek asylum “in a country with shared values.” He currently has his eyes set on Iceland, which “stood up for people over internet freedom.”
“I have no idea what my future is going to be,” he said.
Snowden worked for the NSA for four years, as a technical worker for several defense contractors, according to the Guardian. He most recently worked for Booz Allen Hamilton, a military technology consulting firm, which gave him access to secret NSA documents. In a statement, the company confirmed that Snowden had worked for the company for three months, and condemned his actions as a “grave violation.”
“News reports that this individual [Snowden] 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,” the company said.
The highly confidential documents revealed by Snowden show that the NSA, FBI, and CIA routinely collects all incoming and outgoing call data – numbers called, time of calls, and call duration – of all Verizon customers, regardless of whether those numbers were related to an investigation. A second set of documents made public a program called PRISM, which involved mass surveillance of communications over the networks of nine major U.S. Internet companies – Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, AOL, PalTalk, Skype, and YouTube. Monitored communications reportedly include “audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs,” according to the Post.
Seven of the nine Internet companies have denied cooperating with the NSA, or even having any knowledge of PRISM. The New York Times reports, however, that at least some of the companies did have some knowledge of surveillance, but were often legally forbidden to acknowledge the government’s spying efforts.
In his interview with the Guardian, Snowden says the NSA’s spying capabilities are not only widespread – “We collect more digital communications from America than we do from the Russians.” – but are capable of intercepting “almost everything.”
“If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts,” he said. “I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.”
Snowden says his “primay fear” is what will happen to his friends and family, who he believes face aggressive action from authorities. “My primary fear is that they will come after my family, my friends, my partner,” he said. “Anyone I have a relationship with. … I will have to live with that for the rest of my life.”
When asked what he believes will happen to him, the man who publicly claims responsibility for arguably the most serious government leak in recent history, Snowden has a straight answer: “Nothing good.”