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.
A separate spokesman said the Snowden who attended the college never took computer classes there. He declined to say what classes the man took, citing confidentiality laws.
Snowden grew up attending Anne Arundel County public schools, Crofton Woods Elementary and Crofton Middle, and then Arundel High School for 1½ years, leaving after the first semester of the 1998-1999 school year, said Rober Mosier, a district spokesman.
Snowden's mother, Elizabeth Barrett Snowden, filed for divorce against her husband, Lonnie Glenn Snowden, Jr., in February 2001, and it was finalized three months later.
His mother, also known as Wendy, is chief deputy clerk for administration and information technology for U.S. District Court in Baltimore, a court official confirmed.
The Guardian published a secret court order last week that requires Verizon to turn over to the NSA the telephone call data of millions of customers. The order is believed to be one of several in an ongoing program that also involves other carriers.
The Guardian and The Washington Post then reported details of a second program, called Prism, through which the newspapers said the agency is extracting audio and video chats, photographs, emails, documents and connection logs from American Internet companies including Google, Facebook, Skype and YouTube.
The revelations prompted the director of national intelligence to take the rare step last week of declassifying some details of the top secret programs.
James R. Clapper said NSA uses "telephony metadata" such as numbers dialed and lengths of calls, but does not listen to the calls. Clapper said the Internet program does not target U.S. citizens or others on U.S. soil.
But the exposure of the secret programs has revived the long-running debate within the United States and abroad about the vast reach of the NSA and other U.S. intelligence agencies, which have expanded their surveillance programs dramatically since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
U.S. officials say the agency operates within the law.
The Guardian reported that Snowden wanted his identity to be revealed.
"My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which was done in their name and that which is done against them," the Guardian quoted Snowden as saying.
That sentiment echoed those expressed by Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, the former Maryland man now facing a court-martial that at Fort Meade.
Manning, who served as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad, has acknowledged giving hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
The 25-year-old soldier told a military judge in February that he leaked diplomatic cables, Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, and gunsight video footage of a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack that killed civilians in Baghdad to provoke a public debate over U.S. foreign and military policy.
Manning, who lived in Potomac and studied at Montgomery College before enlisting in the Army in 2007, has been charged with aiding the enemy and violating the Espionage Act. His court-martial began last week and resumes Monday. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison. Earlier this year, he pleaded guilty to 10 lesser charges of mishandling classified information and faces up to 20 years behind bars for those counts.
Including Manning, President Barack Obama's administration has prosecuted six people for illegal disclosures of classified information, more than all other administrations combined.
The highly secretive NSA, which is fenced off from the rest of Fort Meade, collects and processes intelligence gathered from phone calls, Internet activity and other electronic communications. The number of employees at its steel-and-glass headquarters, visible from Route 32, is classified.
Booz Allen Hamilton said Sunday that Snowden had been an employee for less than three months and was 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," the contractor, based in Northern Virginia, said in a statement. "We will work closely with our clients and authorities in their investigation of this matter."
Snowden had been working at NSA for four years as a contractor for outside companies including Booz Hamilton and Dell, the Guardian reported.
He copied secret documents at the NSA office in Hawaii where he works and told his supervisor he needed "a couple of weeks" off for treatment for epilepsy, the newspaper reported. He then flew to Hong Kong, which he told the newspaper he chose because "they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent."