Edward Snowden is an American computer professional from N.C., a former Central Intelligence Agency(CIA) employee, and former contractor for the United States government who copied and leaked classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013 without prior authorization. His disclosures revealed numerous global surveillance programs, many run by the NSA and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance with the cooperation of telecommunication companies and European governments. (1)
Snowden’s father described Edward as “the smartest one in the family”, “a deep thinker” and “a sensitive, caring young man.” In accounts published in June 2013, interviewers noted that Snowden’s laptop displayed stickers supporting Internet freedom organizations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Tor Project. Snowden stated that he was “neither traitor nor hero. I’m an American.” In 2006, after attending a job fair focused on intelligence agencies, Snowden was offered a position at the CIA, which he joined. He was assigned to the global communications division at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
In 2009, Snowden began work as a contractee for Dell, which manages computer systems for multiple government agencies. Assigned to an NSA facility at Yokota Air Base near Tokyo, Snowden instructed top officials and military officers on how to defend their networks from Chinese hackers. During his four years with Dell, he rose from supervising NSA computer system upgrades to working as what his résumé termed a “cyberstrategist” and an “expert in cyber counterintelligence” at several U.S. locations. In 2011, he returned to Maryland, where he spent a year as lead technologist on Dell’s CIA account. In that capacity, he was consulted by the chiefs of the CIA’s technical branches, including the agency’s chief information officer and its chief technology officer. U.S. officials and other sources familiar with the investigation said Snowden began downloading documents describing the government’s electronic spying programs while working for Dell in April 2012.
In March 2012, Dell reassigned Snowden to Hawaii as lead technologist for the NSA’s information-sharing office. At the time of his departure from the United States in May 2013, he had been employed for 15 months inside the NSA’s Hawaii regional operations center, which focuses on the electronic monitoring of China and North Korea, the last three of which were with consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. While intelligence officials have described his position there as a “system administrator,” Snowden has said he was an “infrastructure analyst,” which meant that his job was to look for new ways to break into Internet and telephone traffic around the world. On March 15, 2013—three days after what he later called his “breaking point” of “seeing the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress”—Snowden quit his job at Dell. Although he has stated that his “career high” annual salary was $200,000, Snowden said he took a pay cut to work at defense contractor Booz Allen, where he sought employment in order to gather data and then release details of the NSA’s worldwide surveillance activity.
May 20, 2013: Edward Snowden, while an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton at the National Security Agency, arrives in Hong Kong from Hawaii. He carries four laptop computers that enable him to gain access to some of the US government’s most highly-classified secrets.
Most Americans know the rest and many consider Snowden a hero, and rightly so if he’s risked his life to alert Americans to unconstitutional surveillance of every American citizen by the NSA, but Jon Rappaport, a long time freelance investigative journalist isn’t completely convinced he’s legit:
June 5: The Guardian publishes its first exclusive based on Snowden’s leak, revealing a secret court order showing that the US government had forced the telecoms giant Verizon to hand over the phone records of millions of Americans. The next three days see more NSA revelations, but there is no mention of Snowden.
June 6: A second story reveals the existence of the previously undisclosed program Prism, which internal NSA documents claim gives the agency “direct access” to data held by Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants. The tech companies deny that they have set up “back door access” to their systems for the US government.
June 7: Barack Obama defends the two programs, saying they are overseen by the courts and Congress. Insisting that “the right balance” had been struck between security and privacy, he says: “You can’t have 100% security, and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience.”
The Guardian reports that GCHQ has been able to see user communications data from the American internet companies, because it had access to Prism.
June 8: Another of Snowden’s leaks reveals the existence of an internal NSA tool – Boundless Informant – that allows it to record and analyse where its data comes from, and raises questions about its repeated assurances to Congress that it cannot keep track of all the surveillance it performs on American communications.
June 9: The Guardian goes public about Snowden for the first time. According to Reuters, the NSA started an “urgent search” for Snowden several days before June 9—perhaps as early as June 1. In a video interview Snowden says: “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong.”
June 10: Snowden checks out of his hotel, but remains in Hong Kong. The US intelligence apparatus still can’t find him.
June 12: Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post publishes the first interview with Snowden since he revealed his identity. He says he intends to stay in the city until asked to leave and discloses that the NSA has been hacking into Hong Kong and Chinese computers since 2009. The NSA still can’t find him.
June 14: The UK Home Office orders airlines to deny passage to Snowden, if he tries to come to the UK. A US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia issued a criminal complaint, charging Snowden with theft of government property and two other charges under the 1917 Espionage Act: “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person”.
June 16: The Guardian reports that GCHQ intercepted foreign politicians’ communications at the 2009 G20 summit.
June 20: Top secret documents published by the Guardian show how US judges have signed off on broad orders allowing the NSA to make use of information “inadvertently” collected from domestic US communications without a warrant.
June 21: A Guardian exclusive reveals that GCHQ has gained access to the network of cables which carry the world’s phone calls and internet traffic and is processing vast streams of sensitive personal information it shares with the NSA. The US files espionage charges against Snowden and requests that Hong Kong detain him for extradition.
June 23: After Snowden left Hong Kong for Russia on 23 June, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government issued a statement on their rejection of a provisional arrest warrant for Edward Snowden from the US on the grounds that it “did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law”.
More timeline here
Edward Snowden’s revelations of secret mass surveillance by the NSA and its national security-sector contractors have greatly embarrassed the US government. Attempts to extradite him to stand trial in the United States come against a background of systemic overclassification of information, increasing secrecy in the courts and a harsh crackdown on national security journalism, centred around investigations of unauthorised leaks. The Obama administration prosecuted more people under the Espionage Act for leaks to the press than all previous administrations combined.
What impact have Snowden’s revelations had?
- Investigation: Snowden’s revelations have led to numerous investigations into US surveillance and violations of human rights to privacy and freedom of information. The US, the EU and Brazil all have ongoing investigations into mass surveillance.
- Transparency: In a press conference on 9 August 2013, President Obama acknowledged the need for greater transparency regarding US surveillance programmes, asking the intelligence community “to make public as much information about these programs as possible”. A large number of documents have subsequently been released by the US government, including a 2011 FISA Court opinion that ruled some NSA surveillance actions were unconstitutional.
- Legislative reform: Nineteen proposals for substantial legislative reform of laws enabling US surveillance are currently pending in the US. Many of the bills include changes to the FISA Court and proposals for more transparent proceedings.
- Lawsuits: Formal complaints have been filed against the US and UK governments for breach of privacy laws and rights in France, Germany, the US, the UK and with the European Court of Human Rights. In addition, lawsuits have been filed against the US government by Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Linkedin and Dropbox to allow the companies to disclose more information about their compliance with national security requests.
- An informed public debate: Snowden’s revelations have informed the public of the surveillance programmes that have been secretly collecting mass phone and internet data, and this democratisation of knowledge offers the public new choices about their behaviours. Media coverage of surveillance and related topics has grown substantially since June 2013. A number of polls also reflect a shift in US public opinion regarding surveillance and the US government policies’ impact on civil liberties.
Read more about the investigations, transparency measures, legislative reform, complaints and public awareness generated due to Snowden’s revelations on the edwardsnowden.com Impact page.
Why didn’t Edward Snowden voice complaints within the US whistleblower system?
Whilst Snowden could have voiced concerns under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, he would only have been able to present complaints that the law deems of ‘urgent concern’ to Congress. The US Congress has been briefed on warrantless wiretapping before and failed to respond, as evidenced by an NSA Inspector General review of surveillance activities, which indicates 60 US Congress members had already been briefed [see page 23 of the corresponding pdf] on top secret programs such as STELLARWIND. The same document describes how, immediately following the public exposure of President George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, new orders were signed which “essentially gave NSA the same authority to collect bulk internet metadata that it had under the PSP [President’s Surveillance Program]”.
In an interview with Glenn Greenwald, Snowden explained that while he did talk to people about abuses he saw, he eventually realised that the wrongdoing he witnessed was something that should be determined by the public. Snowden later described his attempts to discuss his concerns internally in some detail in an interview with the Washington Post.
In addition, Snowden was aware of the significant risks of voicing such concerns through official channels; not only could he have been persecuted for speaking up, but the issues of concern may have continued to be hidden from public view. Thomas Drake, a former senior NSA executive, wrote in the Guardian about his own experience with the Act: “By following protocol, you get flagged – just for raising issues. You’re identified as someone they don’t like, someone not to be trusted.”
Edward Snowden was granted temporary asylum by Russia on 1 August 2013 for a period of one year ending 31 July 2014, which includes the right to work and travel within the Russian Federation. In August 2014, Edward Snowden was granted a three-year residence permit, which also allows him to travel abroad for periods of up to three months. Mr Snowden is currently at an undisclosed secure location.
Russia also rejected an extradition request (prior to granting him asylum) while Snowden was staying in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on the grounds that he had not crossed the border into Russia and that Russia and the US “have no bilateral agreement on extradition”. It subsequently emerged that the US had a jet waiting in Copenhagen to render Edward Snowden to the US, pending negotiations with Russia.
The US also sent extradition and arrest warrants to countries which Edward Snowden was not present in but he had sent requests for asylum.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro responded to an extradition request from the US saying that he would reject any extradition request for Snowden and that the US government “[does] not have the moral right to request the extradition of a young man who is only warning of the illegalities committed by the Pentagon and the CIA and the United States”. He further commented that the US is “simply disregarding bilateral agreements”.
Bolivia rejected an extradition request, with the Foreign Ministry commenting that the request was “strange, illegal, unfounded” as Edward Snowden was not present in the country.
Ireland rejected an arrest warrant, stating that the warrant failed to state where Snowden’s alleged offences took place.
It was also reported that Iceland received an extradition request.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki further warned countries about allowing Edward Snowden to travel in a statement: “Persons wanted on felony charges, such as Mr Snowden, should not be allowed to proceed in any further international travel, other than is necessary to return him to the United States.”
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