A 29-year-old intelligence analyst who claims to have worked at the National Security Agency (NSA) and the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) was revealed as the source of The Guardian’s and The Washington Post’s disclosures about the U.S. government’s secret surveillance programmes, the newspapers reported on Sunday.
The leaks have reopened the post-September 11, 2001, debate about privacy concerns versus national security, and has led the NSA to ask the US Justice Department to conduct a criminal investigation.
The Guardian said it was publishing the identity of Edward Snowden, a former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, at his own request.
The Washington Post also identified Snowden as its principal source for its reporting on intelligence operations that has put the White House and the administration on the defensive.
“Over time, that awareness of wrongdoing sort of builds up and you feel compelled to talk about it, and the more you talk about it the more you are ignored, the more you are told it’s not a problem, until eventually you realise that these things need to be determined by the public, not by somebody who is simply hired by the government,” Snowden told The Guardian.
Snowden put himself at risk of prosecution by revealing himself as the source of the disclosures.
“I could be rendered by the CIA, I could have people come after me or any of their third party partners,” Snowden said, adding “that’s a fear I will live under for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be,” said Snowden, in an interview from Hong Kong, where he is staying.
“You can’t come forward against the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies and be completely free from risk because they are such powerful adversaries that no one can meaningfully oppose them. If they want to get you, they will get you in time,” Snowden said.
A spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence did not have immediate comment on the disclosure.
The NSA has been collecting the phone records of hundreds of millions of Americans each day, creating a database through which it can learn whether militant suspects have been in contact with people in the U.S.
The NSA program does not listen to actual conversations.
Separately, an Internet scouring program, code-named PRISM, allows the NSA and FBI to tap directly into nine U.S. Internet companies to gather all Internet usage – audio, video, photographs, emails and searches.
The agency claims the effort is designed to detect suspicious behaviour that begins overseas.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper decried the revelation of the intelligence-gathering programmes as reckless and said it has done “huge, grave damage.”
In recent days, he took the rare step of declassifying some details about them to respond to media reports about counterterrorism techniques employed by the government.
President Barack Obama, Clapper and others have said the programmes have been authorised by Congress and are subject to strict supervision of a secret court.
Snowden told The Guardian that he lacked a high school diploma and enlisted in the U.S. Army until he was discharged with broken legs after a training mission.
After leaving the Army, Snowden got his foot in the door with the NSA at a covert facility at the University of Maryland, working as a security guard.
He later went to work for the CIA as an information technology employee and by 2007 was stationed in Geneva, Switzerland, where he had access to classified documents.
During that time, he considered going public with what he knew about the nation’s secretive programmes.
He decided against it, he told the newspaper, because he did not want to put anyone in danger and he hoped Obama’s election would curtail some of the clandestine programmes, and was disappointed when nothing changed under the new administration.
Snowden left the CIA in 2009 to join a private contractor. He spent the last four years at the National Security Agency, the U.S. intelligence arm that monitors electronic communications, as a contractor with consulting giant Booz Allen Hamilton and, before that, Dell.
The Guardian reported that Snowden was working in an NSA office in Hawaii when he copied the last of the documents he planned to disclose and told supervisors that he needed to be away for a few weeks to receive treatment for epilepsy.
He left for Hong Kong on May 20 and has remained there since, according to the newspaper.
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