The source of a series of top secret leaks from the National Security Agency has stepped out of the shadows and identified himself as ex-CIA technical assistant Edward Snowden, saying he was standing up against the U.S. government's "horrifying" surveillance capabilities.
"I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded," the 29-year-old told the British newspaper The Guardian, which broke the first in a series of headline-grabbing articles on NSA surveillance late last week. "That is not something I am willing to support or live under."
According to The Guardian, Snowden has been working with the NSA for the last four years as an "employee of various outside contractors," including the technology consulting firm Booz Allen and the computer giant Dell. Before that, he served as a computer specialist for years with the CIA, which he left in 2009.
Snowden says he was motivated by principle to pull back the veil on one of the government's most secretive entities and its programs to track Americans' phone records and internet usage.
"The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to," he said in a written interview with The Guardian. "There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to."
Snowden claims that the documents he has leaked show that the NSA "routinely lies in response to congressional inquiries about the scope of surveillance in America."
Snowden said he's spent the last few days in Hong Kong, in apparent fear of U.S. recrimination.
"[Hong Kong has] a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent," he said.
The Guardian report revealing Snowden is written by Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, Guardian D.C. Bureau Chief Ewen MacAskill and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras. Poitras had co-authored a related NSA story for The Washington Post, but until the shared credit for today's story, the connection between Greenwald and Poitras was only an obscure six-month-old advocacy group, as reported by ABC News earlier today.
The organization, called the Freedom of the Press Foundation, has no offices and a shoestring budget. Its board is led by one of the most famous whistleblowers in American history, Daniel Ellsberg, whose leak of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 exposed the secret history of the run-up to war in Vietnam on the front page of The New York Times. Two of the group's board members now appear to be involved in a story that's following a similar model.
Greenwald, the author of reports in The Guardian about the National Security Agency's collection of phone records and a follow-up scoop involving the leak of a secret document about U.S. cyber warfare efforts, is one of a handful of journalists who sit on the board alongside activists, Hollywood actors and other patrons.
Poitras, another board member, is a documentary filmmaker who shared a byline on The Washington Post report about a secret program to scour the Internet for clues about terrorist activities.
In the case of Greenwald's phone monitoring report, The Guardian published a Top Secret order by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which was extraordinary in part because it was the first known leak in the super secret court's 35-year history, according to insiders.