The US Government's top-secret eavesdropping mission was leaked through a detailed NSA document that rocked the world when it exposed how Internet giants like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Yahoo were offering direct access to their users' data to the NSA. Though Internet companies in question have denied
participating in any kind of 'direct access' surveillance program, the controversy just refuses to die down.
Who leaked this top-secret document was not known until today when Edward Snowden decided to come forward and reveal his identity to the world via The Guardian, the publication that first exposed the Prism surveillance system. Snowden is a 29-year old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. He has been working at the NSA for the last four years on the payrolls of defence contractors including Booz Allen and Dell.
According to The Guardian, Snowden had attached a note with the first set of leaked documents that said, "I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions," but "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."
He did not want media attention so that attention is not diverted from the actual matter, "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," said Snowden.
According to the report, Snowden was leading a comfortable life and was being paid a salary of roughly $200,000. He lived in Hawaii with his girlfriend and has a family. He says he was willing to sacrifice everything as he can't allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they were secretly building.
Three weeks ago, Snowden copied all the documents that he has exposed at the NSA's Hawaii office where he worked and applied for leave for a "couple of weeks" for treatment of his medical condition. Snowden suffered from epilepsy, which he discovered last year.
At the NSA office in Hawaii where he was working, he copied the last set of documents he intended to disclose.
He then went to Hong Kong on May 20 where he's currently residing. Snowden says he chose Hong Kong because he felt "they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent", and because he believed that it was among the few places in the world that would not budge under pressure from the US if it wanted.
During the three weeks, Snowden has mostly remained in his hotel room and has ventured out about three times during the entire stay. He's a little paranoid about being spied on and puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords.
According to the report, the NSA police and other law enforcement officers have visited Snowden's residence in Hawaii twice, and have already contacted his girlfriend.
Snowden was brought up in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, US. His family moved later to Maryland, near the NSA headquarters in Fort Meade.
According to him, he was not a stellar student and for getting the credits necessary to obtain a high school diploma, he attended a community college in Maryland, studying computing, but never completed the coursework, though he later obtained his GED.
Snowden enlisted in the US army in 2003 and joined a training program to join the Special Forces because he wanted to fight in Iraq to free people from oppression.
He broke both his legs in a training accident and was discharged from the program, only to join an NSA facility as a security guard for the NSA's covert facilities at the University of Maryland.
Snowden then went to the CIA to work in IT security and his Internet skills and computer programming knowledge helped him to rise.
He was sent to Geneva, Switzerland in 2007 and was given the responsibility for maintaining computer network security. This allowed him access to a wide range of secret documents. Snowden said that the first time he thought he'd expose the US government was when he was stationed in Geneva.
Snowden quit the CIA in 2009 to take his first job with a private contractor that stationed him to a functioning NSA facility, at a Japanese military base.
The desire to fight for the privacy rights of the common people led him to exposing the US government's secret mission after learning about the NSA's surveillance activities over the course of the last three years.
With inputs from AFP