By Jean Marbella, Shashank Bengali and David S. Cloud, Tribune Newspapers
10:00 PM EDT, June 10, 2013
Edward Joseph Snowden, the government contractor who revealed the National Security Agency's massive telephone- and Internet-surveillance program, has left few public clues about his life growing up in Crofton and Ellicott City.
Snowden, 29, attended Anne Arundel County public schools until leaving Arundel High midway through the 1998-1999 academic year, a district spokesman said Monday. He went on to take courses at the county's community college for the next half-dozen years but never received a degree, according to officials there.
Neighbors in the Ellicott City subdivision where Snowden previously lived with his mother, Elizabeth Barrett Snowden, described him as a quiet young man who spent a lot of time on his computer. Elizabeth Snowden, also known as "Wendy," is chief deputy clerk for administration and information technology for U.S. District Court in Baltimore, a court official confirmed.
She continued to avoid reporters who staked out her gray-sided home in the Woodland Village subdivision Monday.
Her son "seemed like a nice young man," said one neighbor, Ann Marie Conway, 50, who recalled seeing him a few months ago.
"His mother is a lovely woman," Conway said. "She's hardworking, has high integrity. I can't imagine that she would teach him to do anything other than what was right."
Snowden dropped out of sight Monday, checking out of the glitzy Mira Hotel in Hong Kong, where he had holed up for weeks. It was there that he admitted in a taped interview with a British newspaper that he disclosed a trove of intelligence secrets to the media.
Whether Snowden will give away — among other intelligence secrets he claimed to know — the locations of every CIA base overseas and identities of its undercover officers is unclear.
Despite his lack of academic credentials and a failed stint as an Army recruit, Snowden found his calling in the United States' spy services, using his computer skills to rise from a lowly security position to well-paid private contractor for the NSA. He had rented a bungalow with his girlfriend near Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and claimed to earn $200,000 a year.
In a 12-minute videotaped interview with The Guardian, the British newspaper that broke many of his scoops, he said in a soft-spoken voice that he was determined to shine a light on what he called the federal government's almost unlimited tracking of private citizens' phone calls and Internet usage.
"I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded," he said to the camera.
Snowden's world began in Elizabeth City, along North Carolina's coast. His family moved to Crofton in Anne Arundel County, where he attended Crofton Woods Elementary School and then Crofton Middle School, said Robert Mosier, a spokesman for Arundel public schools. Mosier said Snowden then attended Arundel High for 11/2 years.
Snowden told The Guardian he struggled in high school, eventually dropping out.
Officials at Anne Arundel Community College said an Edward Joseph Snowden took courses there from 1999 through fall 2005 but did not receive a degree or certificate.
"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," AACC spokeswoman Susan Gross said in an email.
Another spokesman said the student never took computer classes there but declined to say what he did study.
Snowden's mother filed for divorce from his father, Lonnie Glenn Snowden Jr., in February 2001, and it was finalized three months later, according to Anne Arundel County Circuit Court records.
Joyce Kinsey, 63, who lives across from Elizabeth Snowden, said she thought Edward Snowden moved into the home about a dozen years ago. At first, she said, he lived alone, then with a roommate, and later his mother.
Through their open curtains, Kinsey would see him working on a computer and figured he was in college.
Now, she said, she believes he isn't handling his concerns about privacy in the right way; it would have been better for him to leave the NSA and then get involved in advocacy.
"Everybody has a private life. I think everybody's entitled to their privacy," Kinsey said. "I understand they have to do certain things to protect us, but I don't think they should have free rein."
Neighbor Ann Marie Conway said she would be upset if Snowden were jailed for his actions. His leak should not have been a surprise to either U.S. citizens or foreign governments.
"It comes as no surprise to me that the federal government listens to people in the United States under the aegis of defense," said Conway, herself a government contractor. "I think he did what he thought was right, honestly, and I applaud his courage."
FBI agents are said to have visited Lonnie Snowden, 52, who now lives in Upper Macungie Township in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, on Monday. A former Coast Guard official, he told ABC News this weekend that he had last seen his son for dinner months ago and was still "digesting and processing" the news of the leak.
In May 2004, Snowden enlisted in the Army, hoping to join the Special Forces. He took advantage of an option that allowed recruits to try out directly for the elite force without prior service. He reported to Fort Benning, Ga., but was discharged four months later, the Army said Monday.
Recruits designated for Special Forces normally go through eight to 10 weeks of basic training, followed by an advanced infantry training course, then Special Forces assessment and selection. Snowden told The Guardian that he left the Army after he broke both legs in a training accident.
An Army spokesman, Lt. Col. S. Justin Platt, confirmed Snowden's service but said no records indicate he completed even basic training. Platt said he could not comment on Snowden's claim that he broke his legs in training because it involved medical records.
In 2005, Snowden worked as a "security specialist" at the University of Maryland's Center for Advanced Study of Language in 2005, a school spokesman confirmed. The center, founded in 2003 as a Department of Defense-affiliated research center, is "dedicated to addressing the language needs of the intelligence community," according to a university website.
After that, Snowden said, his computer skills helped him get a job with the CIA in information technology.
In 2007, he said, the CIA posted him for two years to Geneva, Switzerland, to maintain security for the agency's computer network. He lived in an apartment block on the banks of the Rhone River, where the U.S. consulate often housed employees, according to Radio Television Suisse.
Snowden said he began to grow disillusioned with the CIA while in Switzerland. He claimed that CIA officers deliberately got a Swiss banker drunk, then offered to fix his drunken-driving arrest if he agreed to disclose secret financial information. He didn't say whether the banker agreed.
"I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good," he said.
Still, Snowden continued to move up the ranks in the intelligence community. His high-level security clearance made him easily employable in the private sector, and in 2009, he said, he left the CIA to work as a contractor at an NSA facility on a military base in Japan.
That's when he first saw the astonishing breadth of the agency's surveillance capabilities, he said.
Snowden became a firm proponent of civil liberties, affixing a sticker to his laptop promoting the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for Internet users' rights.
In 2012, he made two contributions totaling $500 to the presidential campaign of libertarian Republican Ron Paul, according to federal records. Snowden listed his employer as Dell, the Texas-based computer company. A Dell spokeswoman declined to answer questions Monday about Snowden's employment.
Sometime that year, Snowden moved to Honolulu. In March this year, he took a job with Booz Allen Hamilton, a government contractor, as an infrastructure analyst at the NSA's huge mountaintop facility on Oahu. He rented a single-story blue bungalow in Waipahu, an upscale suburb 10 miles from the NSA facility.
Documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, who contributed to last week's stories in both The Guardian and The Washington Post, told Salon on Monday that she was contacted "anonymously" by email in January this year. She denied that she encouraged Snowden to leak national security secrets.
"Are you kidding?" she said. "I didn't know where he worked, I didn't know he was NSA ... There's no connection here. We were contacted, we didn't know what he was up to, and at some point he came forward with documents."
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