A former CIA technician has broken cover to reveal himself as the mole who leaked information about PRISM - the US government's massive web surveillance programme.
Edward Snowden, 29, outed himself as the source of revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) has tapped up American internet giants for data on foreigners' online activities. He made the claims during interviews with the Guardian.
Snowden told the newspaper: "The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife's phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.
"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."
The US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act forces internet giants, such as Google and Facebook, to share their users' data with government agents and forbids those companies from talking about it. Both aforementioned cloud-powered companies denied over the weekend that they allow US spooks direct access to their systems. It was further alleged over the weekend that the NSA PRISM project shared some of its gathered data with Britain's eavesdropping nerve centre, GCHQ, although the British government denies any suggestion that data was obtained unlawfully.
Snowden maintained network security for the CIA and, until he leaked files detailing the NSA programme, was employed by “strategy and technology consulting” firm Booz Allen Hamilton, which is understood to serve as a contractor for the US National Security Agency (NSA). Snowden is now on the run and hiding out at a hotel in Hong Kong, where he hopes to apply for asylum in Iceland in a bid to avoid the wrath of the American government.
"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," he said.
"I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in."
He added: "My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them."
He now fears for his life, warning: "If they want to get you, over time they will."
The extent of the NSA's surveillance was revealed last Wednesday, when it emerged that a secret US court issued an order requiring mobile network Verizon to hand over metadata on millions of US citizens' phone calls, although no actual phone recordings were obtained.
This was followed by the exposure of PRISM, a scheme which allowed spies to request access to information on non-Americans from the servers of nine of the world's biggest internet companies.
Although the companies named in the leaked documents, including Microsoft, Facebook and Google, deny giving NSA agents automatic access to their data, the Guardian reported that PRISM allows spies to intercept email and instant messaging conversations, tap audio and video on Skype calls, and to snoop on various other forms of web-based communication. Such surveillance is entirely possible, with or without the internet giants' help, at the network level by tapping into the US's internet backbone.
Booz Allen Hamilton, issued the following statement:
Booz Allen can confirm that Edward Snowden, 29, has been an employee of our firm for less than 3 months, assigned to a team in Hawaii. 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. We will work closely with our clients and authorities in their investigation of this matter.
James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, said the leaks were "literally gut-wrenching". He added: "I hope we're able to track down whoever's doing this, because it is extremely damaging to, and it affects the safety and security of this country."
It certainly does “affect people's safety and security”, but perhaps not in the way Clapper wants that phrase to be understood. ®