A British newspaper has identified a 29-year-old former Marylander as the source of the top secret documents that revealed details of two National Security Agency surveillance programs and revived debate of the agency's reach into the private lives of Americans.
The Guardian reported Sunday that Edward Snowden, who was working at an NSA office in Hawaii as an employee of the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, wanted to alert the public to the programs being conducted in their name.
"I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions," Snowden wrote in a note that accompanied the documents he provided to The Guardian, the newspaper reported. "I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant."
Snowden, a former CIA technical assistant, is ensconced in a luxury hotel in Hong Kong after leaving the United States with secret documents, the Guardian reported. He had lined his hotel room door with pillows to prevent eavesdropping.
Snowden grew up in Elizabeth City, N.C., and his family later moved to Maryland, near the National Security Agency at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County, the newspaper reported. He later attended a community college in Maryland and got a job as a security guard at an NSA facility.
In a 12-minute video interview posted on the Guardian website, Snowden wears rimless glasses, short-cropped brown hair and a thin beard.
"I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you, or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the president if I had a personal email," he said.
Snowden said he decided to expose the NSA secrets because "I do not want to live in a society that does these sort of things." He said the agency "collects more digital communications from America than we do from the Russians."
A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence acknowledged the Guardian report Sunday, and said the matter had been directed to the Department of Justice for investigation. The spokesman did not refer to Snowden by name, or provide details of his work with NSA.
"We have seen the latest report from The Guardian that identifies an individual claiming to have disclosed information about highly classified intelligence programs in recent days," spokesman Shawn Turner said in a statement.
"The Intelligence Community is currently reviewing the damage that has been done by these recent disclosures," Turner said. "Any person who has a security clearance knows that he or she has an obligation to protect classified information and abide by the law."
The Justice Department has begun a criminal investigation into the leaks, spokeswoman Nanda Chitre said Sunday. Chitre would not comment further.
Snowden said in the Guardian interview that he fears authorities "will come after my family, my friends, my partner" because of his actions.
Records list an Edward Joseph Snowden, 29, and other Snowdens, at an address in a tidy Ellicott City subdivision.
No one answered the door there on Sunday afternoon. The gray clapboard house, with a bird feeder and a "welcome" sign out front, was soon swarmed with reporters and cameramen from outlets like CNN, USA Today and CBS after Snowden's identity was revealed.
Neighbor Joyce Kinsey, who lives in nearby apartments, says Snowden has lived there since he was a teen. She described him as quiet and said she would see him on the computer a lot at home.
She thinks some government secrets are necessary to protect citizens and wondered how Snowden was able to access as much as he did.
"If they have somebody who doesn't even have a college education to be around this sensitive information and secrets, there's something wrong," she said Monday.
Susan Gross, a spokeswoman for Anne Arundel Community College, said an Edward Joseph Snowden took classes there from 1999, when Snowden was about 15, through the fall of 2005, though he never earned a degree or certificate at the school.
"We cannot confirm with certainty that he is the same person involved in the NSA phone monitoring situation as Snowden is a popular name in this area," Gross said in an email.