WASHINGTON — A former undercover CIA employee unmasked himself Sunday as the principal source of recent disclosures about top-secret NSA programs.
Edward Snowden, 29, a system administrator who had worked as a contractor for the NSA, denounced what he described as systematic surveillance of innocent citizens and saying in an interview, “it’s important to send a message to government that people will not be intimidated.”
Snowden, whose full name is Edward Joseph Snowden, said he understands the risks of disclosing the information, but that he felt it was the right thing to do.
“I intend to ask for asylum from any countries that believe in free speech and oppose the victimization of global privacy,” Snowden told The Post. The Guardian was the first to publicly identify Snowden. Both media organizations made his name public with his consent.
Before the world knew his name, Snowden drafted a note of explanation.
He had lived a “comfortable and privileged life.” But he was also deeply uncomfortable with the knowledge that had already been afforded to him in his brief career — knowledge about the U.S. surveillance that officials said they were carrying out to keep America safe.
The revelation about Snowden came just a day after Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that the National Security Agency had launched a Justice Department investigation into the leaks to determine who is responsible.
Snowden said he believes that the government will do whatever it can to prosecute him.
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had previously called for the prosecution of whoever was responsible for the leaks. It was not clear Sunday what punishment, if any, Snowden might face.
For the past several months, Snowden was stationed in Hawaii, working as an NSA contractor for the firm Booz Allen Hamilton. It was there, at the NSA offices, he told the Guardian newspaper, that he copied the last set of documents he intended to disclose, told his NSA supervisors he needed time off for treatment for epilepsy, and boarded a flight to Hong Kong.
The Guardian started the cascade of national security revelations last week by reporting on the existence of a program that collects data on all phone calls made on the Verizon network. Later in the week, the Post and the Guardian reported the existence of a separate program, code-named PRISM, that collects the Internet data of foreigners from major Internet companies.
Snowden has been working at the NSA for the past four years as an employee of several outside contractors. His leak has set off a debate, both inside and beyond the Beltway, about the value of the government surveillance programs.
On Sunday, Diane Feinstein confirmed that the controversial programs were invaluable in two recent cases of suspected terrorism.
“One of them is the case of David Headley, who went to Mumbai to the Taj (Mahal) Hotel and scoped it out for the terrorist attack,” Feinstein said. “The second is Najibullah Zazi, who lived in Colorado, who made the decision that he was going to blow up a New York subway.”
That explanation wasn’t enough to satisfy some critics. Her Senate Intelligence Committee colleague, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., agreed that the so-called PRISM program, which taps into the Internet usage of foreigners, has “been very effective.” But he said the collection of Americans’ phone metadata has not been so effective.
Udall and two Democrats from Oregon, Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, have emerged as key voices critical of the phone record collection.
Another chief critic of the efforts, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he is looking at filing a lawsuit against the government and called on Americans to join in.
“I’m going to be asking all the Internet providers and all of the phone companies, ask your customers to join me in a class action lawsuit,” Paul said on “Fox News Sunday.” “If we get 10 million Americans saying we don’t want our phone records looked at, then somebody will wake up and say things will change in Washington.”