At the start of the video that served as his coming out to the world, the man behind the recent National Security Agency leaks looked, for a moment, directly into the camera.
“My name is Ed Snowden, I’m 29 years old, I work for Booz Allen Hamilton as an infrastructure analyst for [the] NSA, in Hawaii,” Snowden told The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, in an on-camera interview the newspaper put online on Sunday. “I have been a systems engineer, a systems administrator, [a] senior advisor for the Central Intelligence Agency’s solutions consultant, and a telecommunications information systems officer.”And with that, the NSA leak story had a face. Snowden, who sat for the interview with The Guardians’ Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras in Hong Kong on June 6, wore a button-down shirt left open at the top, partially rimless glasses, and a sweep of stubble. The accounts he gave to both The Guardian and The Washington Post, along with a few other press reports, have provided the first sketches of the man behind what may turn out to be one of the most significant national security leaks in American history.
“I’m no different from anybody else,” Snowden told The Guardian. “I don’t have special skills. I’m just another guy who sits there day to day in the office, watches what’s happening, and goes, ‘This is something that’s not our place to decide, the public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong.'”
Here are the bits and pieces of what we know so far about the life and career of Edward Snowden.
Various news outlets have confirmed Snowden’s date of birth with the U.S. Army: June 21, 1983.
Snowden told The Guardian that he grew up originally in Elizabeth City, N.C., but that his family later moved to Maryland where, according to The Guardian, they lived near the NSA’s headquarters in Fort Meade.
Snowden’s father, Lonnie Snowden, spoke briefly with ABC News on Sunday, and said he last saw his son a few months ago for dinner. The Allentown (Penn.) Morning Call reported on Monday that Lonnie Snowden and Karen Snowden, Edward Snowden’s step-morther, currently live in Upper Macungie, Penn. (On Monday afternoon, the couple was visited by two people who identified themselves as FBI agents, according to the Morning Call.)
Snowden told The Guardian that he was not a very good student in high school. He attended a community college in Maryland, and took computer classes, to try to get the credits he needed to graduate, but did not finish his coursework. He later got his GED. (According to The Post, meanwhile, “Snowden said he did not have a high school diploma.”)
In 2003, Snowden enlisted in the U.S. Army, he told The Guardian, and began a training program to join the Special Forces.
“I wanted to fight in the Iraq war because I felt like I had an obligation as a human being to help free people from oppression,” Snowden told The Guardian.
But his time in the military did not last. According to Snowden, he was discharged after he broke both legs in a training accident. The Army confirmed Snowden’s enlistment to The Guardian on Monday, but did not provide details about his service record. According to the Army’s records, Snowden enlisted in 2004, not 2003.
“His records indicate he enlisted in the army reserve as a special forces recruit (18X) on 7 May 2004 but was discharged 28 September 2004,” an army spokesperson told The Guardian in an email. “He did not complete any training or receive any awards.”
Following his stint in the Army, Snowden got a job working as a security guard for one of the NSA’s secret facilities at the University of Maryland, Snowden told The Guardian.
From that NSA job, Snowden moved on to the Central Intelligence Agency. He worked on IT security and, according to The Guardian, “His understanding of the internet and his talent for computer programming enabled him to rise fairly quickly for someone who lacked even a high school diploma.”
In 2007, Snowden said he was stationed with diplomatic cover in Geneva, Switzerland, where he was responsible for maintaining computer network security. Snowden told The Guardian that his few years with the CIA “led him to begin seriously questioning the rightness of what he saw.”
He described as formative an incident in which he claimed CIA operatives were attempting to recruit a Swiss banker to obtain secret banking information. Snowden said they achieved this by purposely getting the banker drunk and encouraging him to drive home in his car. When the banker was arrested for drunk driving, the undercover agent seeking to befriend him offered to help, and a bond was formed that led to successful recruitment.
Back To The NSA, But As A Contractor
In 2009, Snowden left the CIA, he told The Guardian. He took a job with a private contractor and was assigned to a NSA facility on a military base in Japan.
Booz Allen Hamilton
The Guardian reported Snowden spent the last four years working for various outside contractors, “including Booz Allen and Dell.” On Sunday, Booz Allen Hamilton, a major government contractor, confirmed that Snowden had been an employee of the firm for the last few months.
“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,” the company said in a statement. “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.”
Until last month, Snowden had been living in Hawaii with a girlfriend. According to Civil Beat, a local news website, Snowden lived in a quiet suburban neighborhood on Oahu. The house he lived in is already up for sale. The place comes furnished, and is listed for $555,000
“You live a privileged life,” Snowden told The Guardian, of his life working and living in Hawaii. He claimed to make a salary of around $200,000. “You’re living in Hawii, in paradise, and making a ton of money.”
A former senior U.S. intelligence official told the Post it wasn’t clear why a contractor for Booz Allen like Snowden would have would have access to material as sensitive as a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
“I don’t know why he would have had access to those … orders out in Hawaii,” the former official said.
Snowden told The Guardian that he made his final preparations three weeks ago. At the NSA office where he worked, he copied the last set of documents he wanted to make public. He told his NSA supervisor that he would need a few weeks off work to receive treatment for epilepsy. He packed his belongings, and told his girlfriend that he had to go away for a few weeks.
On May 20, he boarded a plane for Hong Kong.
Hunter Walker contributed to this report.