Glenn Greenwald’s NSA Source, Edward Snowden, Outs Himself

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

Another “bombshell” from Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian: the NSA whistleblower reveals his name, his reasons for copying classified material, and his plans for the future.

He has had “a very comfortable life” that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves. “I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”

Three weeks ago, Snowden made final preparations that resulted in last week’s series of blockbuster news stories. At the NSA office in Hawaii where he was working, he copied the last set of documents he intended to disclose.

He then advised his NSA supervisor [He is currently employed at Booz Allen Hamilton] that he needed to be away from work for “a couple of weeks” in order to receive treatment for epilepsy, a condition he learned he suffers from after a series of seizures last year.

As he packed his bags, he told his girlfriend that he had to be away for a few weeks, though he said he was vague about the reason. “That is not an uncommon occurrence for someone who has spent the last decade working in the intelligence world.”

On May 20, he boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he has remained ever since. He chose the city because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”, and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US government.

Snowden apparently decided to leave his life behind and begin a new one. He told the Guardian “I do not expect to see home again.” And if that isn’t dramatic enough, he has barely left his hotel room since arriving in Hong Kong because

He is deeply worried about being spied on. He lines the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping. He puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords to prevent any hidden cameras from detecting them.

OK, I’m in no position to evaluate the truth value of all this. It does sound a little paranoid, but look what has happened to Bradley Manning. Certainly the Feds will go after Snowden, whether his revelations are truly damaging to U.S. national security or not and despite the fact that other journalists than Greenwald are now pooh-poohing the revelations.

So who is Snowden? He has an unusual biography for someone in his position. He grew up in North Carolina. He was not a very good student and never graduated from high school, although he took computing courses at a community college. He went into an army special forces training program, hoping to go to Iraq, but he was badly injured and had to be discharged.

After that he worked at the NSA as a security guard, then somehow because of his apparent genius for computers he stepped up the CIA where he worked on IT network security. He eventually worked in Switzerland under diplomatic cover. He gradually became disillusioned and left the CIA to work for private contractors.

He thinks the

value of the internet, along with basic privacy, is being rapidly destroyed by ubiquitous surveillance. “I don’t see myself as a hero,” he said, “because what I’m doing is self-interested: I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.”

Once he reached the conclusion that the NSA’s surveillance net would soon be irrevocable, he said it was just a matter of time before he chose to act. “What they’re doing” poses “an existential threat to democracy”, he said.

You can read the rest at the Guardian.

I really don’t know what to think at this point. I’m not sure if we have learned anything new beyond what we have known throughout the Bush and Obama administrations–that we are being spied upon constantly, but government and corporations. I hate it, and I hope these revelations–whether they are new or not–may lead to change.

I’m going to add a few more links to add to the discussion.

Reuters: Senator seeks review of Patriot Act amid surveillance report

Bob Cesca: NSA Bombshell Story Falling Apart Under Scrutiny; Key Facts Turning Out to Be Inaccurate

ZDNet: The real story in the NSA scandal is the collapse of journalism

Rayne at Emptywheel: Truck-sized Holes: Journalists Challenged by Technology Blindness

Reuters: Government likely to open criminal probe into NSA leaks: officials

Tim Shorrock: Who’s helping the NSA? A Look at Palantir

What are you hearing and reading? What do you think?

101 Comments on “Glenn Greenwald’s NSA Source, Edward Snowden, Outs Himself”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    I’m still reading stuff, because I haven’t been following this story very closely. I think Ralph has been, so maybe he can help bring me up to date.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Business Insider: The Guardian’s Whistleblower Threw Away Everything For NSA Leaks

    Read more:

  3. bostonboomer says:

    According to Rayne at Emptywheel, tech-challenged journalists are not asking the right questions.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    Timeline of NSA revelations.

  5. bostonboomer says:

    Booz Allen Statement on Reports of Leaked Information

    June 9, 2013
    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.

      • dakinikat says:

        Focus now will undoubtedly shift as well to Booz Allen, which has been a huge beneficiary of the boom in defense and national security contracting. The company is one of the many firms that hangs around the Beltway and hoovers up jobs large and small from government agencies. A for-profit company, it gets virtually all its revenues from the federal government. (It should not be confused with Booz & Co., the management consulting firm that was spun off as a separate entity in 2008.) Booz Allen Hamilton’s major clients include, according to the company, “the Department of Defense, all branches of the U.S. military, the U.S. Intelligence Community, and civil agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of the Treasury, and the Environmental Protection Agency.” Among the things it helps these agencies do is “addressing complex and pressing challenges such as combating global terrorism, improving cyber capabilities, transforming the healthcare system, improving efficiency and managing change within the government, and protecting the environment.”

  6. mjames says:

    I think the same thing I thought from Day One: it’s all CIA all the time. Obama is CIA. His mother was CIA. Timothy Geithner’s father, who was also the boss of Obama’s mother, was CIA. This is a CIA coup. Obama was carefully groomed. The Democratic primary was fixed. (No matter if one was a Hillary supporter or not, the cheating was obvious.) The coup is almost completed. In 10 years, it will be. (This is not to suggest the CIA hasn’t been building to this coup for a very long time – probably starting with Reagan; it has. Rather, in Obama it found the perfect foil for the end game.)

    What an extraordinary young man Edward Snowden is, trying his best to stop what may well be inevitable. The things I worry about are so petty in comparison. He has chosen to give up any hope for a normal life, maybe even a life at all. Glenn too. Maybe his life is over as well, at least as it was before. I applaud them both.

    I don’t know how we can stand against the CIA. It already has enough info on all of us (including politicians) to keep most of us in line. But stand we must.

  7. ecocatwoman says:

    I’m probably the odd “woman” out on this. The most confusing/troubling part of your post is how someone without a high school education ends up working for/on CIA business, earning $200K a year? He began as a security guard? Is this some mutation of The American Dream?

    As far as the story itself, I thought from the beginning, again possibly naively, that this wasn’t news. The Patriot Act guaranteed that we have no privacy from our gov’t. KGB/CIA/NSA/FBI/DOJ – are they honestly anything other than synonyms? We the people are nothing more than cogs in the machines owned by the corporations, with a few of them running the world, not just the USA. The future? Soylent Green & slavery for everyone but the uber-wealthy, well connected or those willing to do whatever their overlords want them to do. Glad I’ll be dead & gone before the masses are nothing more than yoked animals working for their masters. Of course my assessment could be based on the fact that I just watched the complete Firefly series in the last 2 days.

    • Beata says:

      Yes, I’m glad I won’t be around much longer and that I didn’t have children who will have to live in the world as it is becoming.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I’m guessing he’s some kind of computer savant with an Autism spectrum disorder. Someone on twitter wrote that she knew a person who had been offered a huge paycheck from NSA while still in high school because of computer skills.

      • Beata says:

        Yes, he’s obviously some kind of computer genius. Also appears to have family connections who work for the government ( perhaps the CIA ).

      • ecocatwoman says:

        Would someone diagnosed with an Autism disorder be hired as a security guard? Given a gun? Just wondering. It just seems truly weird to me. And pillows under the door to prevent eavesdropping? The sophisticated equipment these days doesn’t necessarily require bugs even. Conversations can be heard through windows/walls. Anyway, I’m probably nitpicking and I’m sure the gov’t & his former employers will start a campaign to discredit him. Not sure if I’m turning into a conspiracy nut or just chicken little.

        • bostonboomer says:

          Why not? Aspergers syndrome doesn’t disable people from working. If it did, MIT would be empty and so would Silicon Valley. You don’t get into the CIA without being checked out carefully.

          What makes you think he was given a gun? He was running network security. Did you watch the video? The guy seems intelligent, articulate, and thought all this out carefully.

          I wrote in the post that it all sounds strange and paranoid, so obviously I agree about that part. Presumably The Guardian checked him out. It’s not like they are the National Enquirer.

          • RalphB says:

            Before IT seciruty, the story says he was a security guard and probably armed,

            This explains why the leaker, and jounalists, got so much wrong, He didn’t have a freakin clue how the whole thing really works.

          • RalphB says:

            In this case, the Guardian and WaPo are worse than the Enquirer.

          • bostonboomer says:

            Yes, but it didn’t say he had a gun. Why is the first job he had relevant?

            BTW Albert Einstein did poorly in school and very likely had either a learning disability or Aspergers

          • bostonboomer says:


            Wait, you’re saying that Snowden has no idea how the system he was working on works? I agree he sounds weird, but what are you basing that on?

          • Beata says:

            I’m confused by what you are saying, Ralph. I think you have been following this story more closely than the rest of us so please help us understand your point of view.

          • RalphB says:

            Those jobs at NSA are highly compartmentalized and information is not shared beyond a need to know sometimes even within groups. Being in Hawaii, this joker probably worked on a surveillance site and was only peripherally involved with the rest of the system. Only a few people would be cleared for everything at best and the data analysts would be separated as well.

            This sounds like he saw some powerpoint presentations, read some intertoobz, and let his own paranoia fill in any blanks in the damning story, Clapper and the rest are pissed because information was leaked, and worse it was incorrect in ways they cannot ignore. Note some of the declassification that’s happened, which I consider positive, but it’s probably easing up the secrecy mongers.

          • bostonboomer says:

            This guy was supposedly the IT administrator which would give him access to everything.

        • Beata says:

          I know several people with Aspergers. They are very intelligent, able to hold jobs, and are not prone to violence.

          • Beata says:

            This is just my observation: People I know who have Aspergers tend to be very open and straightforward in their relationships with other people, although they usually do not interact easily. I would describe them as literal-minded and somewhat naive. If Snowden does indeed have Aspergers, leading a “secret life” might have been very difficult for him.

            BB can correct me if I am totally wrong about this,

          • bostonboomer says:

            I don’t know enough about it, Beata. In the article, he sounds extremely idealistic and naive to me. But if he really had those jobs, he must know the danger he’s in. According to Greenwald, he produced proof of all his employment history, his SS#, expired diplomatic passport, everything.

        • RalphB says:

          Modern equipment can read the sound vibrations off the door or a window. I think he is a sick man.

    • roofingbird says:

      We are already yoked animals because we are in personal debt. We lost a big chunk of our freedom, about the time it started taking two incomes to run one family and we had to borrow just to buy toilet paper.

  8. bostonboomer says:
  9. bostonboomer says:

    Josh Marshall thinks Snowden is covering his ass by going to China–they might want to use him against US, so would refuse to extradite him.

  10. bostonboomer says:

    I have to admit the thing about putting a red cover over his head and his computer to protect his passwords sounds nuts.

    • RalphB says:

      Especially since that wouldn’t matter to someone who really wanted information off his computer. If hacking failed, just steal it and remove the hard drive then read to your heart’s content.

      • Beata says:

        Does this mean I can come in off the ledge now, Ralph? It’s getting dark and I’m hungry.

        • RalphB says:

          I think the ledge is going a bit overboard, We don’t know anything I didn’t know before the leaking. The heads exploding are an unexplained curiousity to me.

          • bostonboomer says:

            Well, that’s my problem. What is new about all this that we didn’t find out about back in 2005?

          • RalphB says:

            I don’t know of anything new! That’s what is so freaky about the reactions.

            By the way, I have a good idea of how they are collecting data via Prism. It satisfies the requirements for both sides of the exchange and would not be too complex.

          • Beata says:

            I think I’ll take something for my exploding head and go to bed early.

            ‘Night, you’uns.

          • RalphB says:

            There was one thing different, the over the top reporting in both the Guardian and the WaPo. They might as well have written in all caps.

          • bostonboomer says:

            Yes, the first several paragraphs of the Guardian article were so self-congratulatory that I felt embarrassed reading them. I really don’t see how they can claim this is a bigger leak than the Pentagon Papers, for example.

  11. RalphB says:

    BB, IT admins only have access to the systems they are responsible for and, in his case, that almost certainly wouldn’t be in Fort Meade, MD. Working remote is a common practice in the private sector and some government agencies but not in the national security arena. Too big an extra chance for security breaches.

    • bostonboomer says:


      I’m agnostic on this. As I said in my post, I don’t have the expertise to evaluate the truth value of anything Snowden said. I simply stated what I read.

      Other than my gut reaction of suspicion to the paranoia Snowden expressed (I almost called it “melodramatic” in the post but changed it to dramatic) I have no idea what to think about any of this.

      I do know that I don’t like the surveillance state that the government has built up, but on the Greenwald articles, I have no opinion as yet. Supposedly Snowden copied documents and there will be follow-up articles on those. I need to see more.

  12. bostonboomer says:


    A surprisingly large fraction of Americans with top secret clearances are employed by government contractors. According to the Washington Post’s Top Secret America report in late 2011, 265,000 of the 854,000 government workers with those clearances worked for private firms.

    With that many people having top secret clearance, it’s surprising there aren’t more big leaks.

  13. bostonboomer says:

    Maybe Time Magazine will put Snowden on their next cover on the narcissistic Millennials. He’s the perfect example of the self-involved employee who refuses to follow directions.

    BTW, he left without explaining anything to his parents or girlfriend. Imagine the pain they are feeling right now!

    • RalphB says:

      One of the reasons I think he may be nuts is all the unnecessary pain he caused them by just running out. It was a really horrible thing to do IMHO.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Plus, they are the ones who are going to have to deal with the FBI interrogations.

        • RalphB says:

          Snowden also skipped to Hong Kong with a laptop potentially loaded with other classified information. That’s a potential act of espionage.

          • bostonboomer says:

            That doesn’t mean as much as it used to now that Obama is prosecuting every whistleblower under the espionage act. Snowden already knew that would happen.

          • RalphB says:

            If he goes to trial, that won’t get him any sympathy though.

          • mjames says:

            Well, Ralph, that’s what a whistleblower does, takes risks to expose government abuses, in this case, abuses that are so horrendous as to destroy forever any privacy any of us has. He assumed the risks for a reason. He expects to be hunted down and taken out or prosecuted in some sort of kangaroo court. He knows what’s coming.

          • RalphB says:

            It won’t take a kangaroo court, he’s admitted guilt. Though a lot of the story was incorrect, so maybe he’ll plead insanity.

        • mjames says:

          Yes, but he could very well have protected them by telling them nothing.

      • mjames says:

        I don’t see where you get “nuts.” He had to get out and not implicate them in any way. He protected them by telling them nothing. As to the fact that all of this has been going on for a while, I don’t know if that is true. I think things have gotten worse under Obama. But, whatever, if Snowden and Greenwald are able to focus the country’s attention on what is or has been happening, then good for them.

        Snowden is incredibly articulate. He comes across as highly educated. Perhaps it takes someone like him – not a traditional high school-college-graduate school careerist – to risk his freedom for a higher purpose. He was already an outsider of sorts. He has obviously hit a CIA nerve and the CIA and its apologists (I’m looking at you Feinstein) are definitely freaking out.

        • bostonboomer says:

          I hope you’re right and he’s really as he seems. I’m just getting a bad vibe about him for some reason. Plus I haven’t seen any revelations yet the are different than what we knew before–just more detail. It’s not like me to react this way. Usually I cheer on the whistle-blowers. Maybe part of it is my distrust of Glenn Greenwald. I just don’t like libertarians.

        • RalphB says:

          If you don’t or didn’t know this has been going on since 2006 at the very latest, you haven’t been paying attention.

          • bostonboomer says:

            have you seen this?

            29-Year Old NSA Whistleblower Makes Mindblowing Claims About What Kind Of Power He Had

            Read more:

          • RalphB says:

            We eagerly await confirmation or a rejection that a 29-year old at an outside firm had the power he claims to have had.

            Seems to me a claim of those “powers” almost certainly comes from someone who is not only paranoid but also delusional. Or just one huge liar. No one, and I mean no one, at any company could do that kind of thing and I find it impossible to believe any national agency would allow it for a second!

  14. OT: I’ve created a page on Facebook called Omigawdess… I thought I’d share here in case anyone might be interested….

  15. bostonboomer says:

    From USA Today, 5/11/06: NSA has massive database of Americans’ phone calls

  16. RalphB says:

    Joe Cannon’s initial take on Snowden,

    • bostonboomer says:

      He could be right.

      • RalphB says:

        I liked Kathleen’s comment,

        I wonder if anyone in the media will dig into this and find anything fishy? Oh, silly me. This script is becoming more byzantine by the minute. This “revelation” has all the mojo of a giant rat procreation exercise.

  17. RalphB says:

    Balloon Juice: I Am So Fucking Over This Already

    the media can sit there with there thumbs up their collective asses trying to figure out what exactly is going on, because the j-school flunkouts who make up our media are dumb as a sack of hammers and half of them don’t know the difference between FISA and a wallflower or PRISM and a popsicle, and we will continue like this until a cute white girl is kidnapped and we can move on to substantial issues.

    John Cole sometimes makes a really good point.

    • janicen says:

      This is excellent. Thank you for posting it. All of this “OMG, the government is doing exactly what we gave them the power to do…” stuff has been driving me insane. Headed back under my quilt.