The Guardian, which broke the stories on the NSA's collecting of Verizon records and its PRISM and Boundless Informant data-mining tools, has identified the person responsible for leaking the information: Edward Snowden is a 29-year-old former CIA analyst and current employee of government consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," said Snowden, who requested that his name be revealed. However, he added, "I don't want public attention because I don't want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing."
The Guardian explains that Snowden's whistle-blowing process began around three weeks ago, when he copied the documents he intended to make public in the Hawaii NSA officer where he was working and forwarded them to the British paper. He then told his supervisor and girlfriend he would be gone for a few weeks and flew to Hong Kong, where he remains. He said he chose the city because "they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent," and because he believes the Chinese government might resist orders to extradite him. (He also said he might seek asylum in Iceland.) Still, he is very aware that he will likely face major consequences:
"Yes, I could be rendered by the CIA. I could have people come after me. Or any of the third-party partners. They work closely with a number of other nations. Or they could pay off the Triads. Any of their agents or assets," he said.
"We have got a CIA station just up the road – the consulate here in Hong Kong – and I am sure they are going to be busy for the next week. And that is a concern I will live with for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be."
Having watched the Obama administration prosecute whistleblowers at a historically unprecedented rate, he fully expects the US government to attempt to use all its weight to punish him. "I am not afraid," he said calmly, "because this is the choice I've made."
He predicts the government will launch an investigation and "say I have broken the Espionage Act and helped our enemies, but that can be used against anyone who points out how massive and invasive the system has become".
Snowden, a high-school dropout who spent time in the Army and once trained to become part of the Special Forces, said he became "disillusioned" with the government while he was working in IT security at the CIA's Geneva office, where his clearance allowed him view a lot of classified documents. "I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good," he explained, while also citing what he viewed as underhanded behavior by CIA operatives. He said he considered leaking information as early as 2007, though he held off because he "didn't want to endanger" anyone and because he was hopeful that President Obama's election would bring reforms.
His work as a private contractor, which began in 2009 with an assignment at an NSA facility in Japan, exposed him to the agency's surveillance tactics, which he said are intended to make "every conversation and every form of behavior in the world known to them." Snowden decided to act because the government is acting with "no public oversight." "The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to," he added.
However, he insisted he "carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest. There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn't turn over, because harming people isn't my goal. Transparency is."
Update I: Booz Allen has issued a statement confirming that Snowden has been working at the company for three months. "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," reads the press release. "We will work closely with our clients and authorities in their investigation of this matter."
Update III: Even though the world has only known of Snowden's existence for a few hours, someone has already started a White House petition to pardon him.