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Introduction to Edward Snowden

“I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.” 

— Edward Snowden

The first years of Edward Snowden`s life hardly show any signs of the adventurous future he will face. Born in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, on June 21, 1983. A high-school dropout, two attempts to study computers at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland (from 1999 to 2001, and again from 2004 to 2005). Between his studies at community college, Snowden spent four months from May to September 2004 in special-forces training in the Army Reserves, but he didn’t complete his training. Snowden claimed  that he was discharged from the Army after he “broke both his legs in a training accident.” However, an unclassified report published on September 15, 2016 by the House Intelligence Committee refuted his claim, stating: “He claimed to have left Army basic training because of broken legs when in fact he washed out because of shin splints.”

Working for the Government

Snowden started working as a security guard at the University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Study of Language, then, by 2006, he’d taken an information-technology job at the Central Intelligence Agency. In the meantime he was sent to Geneva on a mission in the embassy. In 2009, after being suspected of trying to break into classified files, he left to work for CIA and went working for private contractors, among them Dell and Booz Allen Hamilton, a tech consulting firm. While at Dell, he worked as a subcontractor in an NSA office in Japan before being transferred to an office in Hawaii. After a short time, he moved from Dell to Booz Allen, another NSA subcontractor, but remained with the company for only three months.

Blowing the Whistle

The far reach of the NSA`s everyday surveillance did not remain unseen by Snowden during his years of IT work. While working for Booz Allen, Snowden began copying top-secret NSA documents he found invasive and disturbing. The documents contained a tremendous amount of information on the NSA’s domestic surveillance practices.

After he had compiled a large store of documents, Snowden told his NSA supervisor that he had been diagnosed with epilepsy and he needed a sick leave. On May 20, 2013, Snowden took a flight to Hong Kong, China and soon after had a meeting with journalists from the U.K. publicationThe Guardian.

On June 5, The Guardian released secret documents obtained from Snowden. In these documents, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court implemented an order that required Verizon to release information to the NSA on an “ongoing, daily basis” culled from its American customers’ phone activities.

On the very next day, the newspaper published Snowden’s information on PRISM, an NSA program that allows real-time information collection electronically. The international echo was huge.

Persona Non-Grata

Back home in the US,  Snowden was quickly charged “theft of government Property,” “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person.” The last two charges fall under the Espionage Act.

After the revelation in the publications, his life was completely changed forever. He remained hidden for about a month and after that planned to relocate to Ecuador for asylum, but during his plane transfer in Russia he was kept on the airport since his passport was annulled by the American Government. The Russian government denied US requests to extradite Snowden.

Soon after that Snowden was offered asylum in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia. Despite that, Snowden expressed an interest in staying in Russia. One of his lawyers, Anatoly Kucherena, stated that Snowden would seek temporary asylum in Russia and possibly apply for citizenship later. At the same time, Snowden stated that he no longer possessed any of the NSA files that he leaked to the press. He gave the materials to the journalists he met with in Hong Kong, but he didn’t keep copies for himself. Snowden explained that “it wouldn’t serve the public’s interest” for him to have brought the files to Russia. Since then he’s made a few appearances – first at the popular South by Southwest festival via teleconference in March 2014.  Also, featured in Poitras’s highly acclaimed documentary Citizenfour. The director of the documentary had recorded her meetings with Snowden and Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald. The film went on to win an Academy Award in 2015.

Snowden appeared with Poitras and Greenwald via video-conference in February 2015. Earlier the same month, Snowden spoke with students at Upper Canada College via video-conference.

On September 29, 2015, Snowden joined the social media platform Twitter, tweeting “Can you hear me now?” The statement was retwitted over 115 billion times and he had almost two million followers in a little over 24 hours.

Just a few days later, Snowden spoke to the New Hampshire Liberty Forum via Skype and stated he would be willing to return to the US if the government could guarantee a fair trial.

In 2016 he made it clear that the only way for him to go back home to the US is if President Obama (at that time) granted him a pardon. He had followers supporting him, and at the same time, people disapproving of his act.

In 2016 a movie about his act was release, directed by Oliver Stone with Snowden’s cooperation and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead role. The film was released in the United States on September 16.

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