Edward Joseph "Ed" Snowden (born June 21, 1983) is an American computer professional who leaked classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA), starting in June 2013. A former system administrator for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and a counterintelligence trainer at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), he later worked for the private intelligence contractor Dell inside an NSA outpost in Japan. In March 2013, he joined the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton inside the NSA center in Hawaii. In June 2013, he came to international attention after disclosing to several media outlets thousands of classified documents that he acquired while working as an NSA contractor for Dell and Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden's leaked documents revealed numerous global surveillance programs, many of them run by the NSA and the Five Eyes with the cooperation of telecommunication companies and European governments. A subject of controversy, Snowden has been variously called a hero, a whistleblower, a dissident, a patriot, and a traitor. His disclosures have fueled debates over mass surveillance, government secrecy, and the balance between national security and information privacy. Two court rulings since the initial leaks have split on the constitutionality of the NSA's bulk collection of telephone metadata.
On May 20, 2013, Snowden flew from Hawaii to Hong Kong, where in early June he revealed numerous classified NSA documents to journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, both of whom he had summoned to Hong Kong for that purpose. On June 9, four days after the press first exposed a secret NSA program based on his leaks, Snowden made his identity public. On June 14 the U.S. Department of Justice charged him with two counts of violating the Espionage Act and theft of government property, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The U.S. Department of State revoked his passport on June 22. According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Snowden met with Russian diplomats while in Hong Kong. On June 23, Snowden—who later said he had been ticketed for onward travel via Havana, Cuba—flew to Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport. ABC News reported that Snowden "could not enter Russia because he did not have a Russian visa and he could not travel to safe haven opportunities in Latin America because the United States had canceled his passport." Snowden remained in the airport transit zone for 39 days, during which time he applied for asylum in 21 countries. On August 1, 2013, Russian authorities granted him a one-year temporary asylum. A year later, Russia issued Snowden a three-year residency permit allowing him to travel freely within the country and to go abroad for not longer than three months. He lives in an undisclosed location in Russia and is seeking asylum in the European Union, although member state Germany—which rejected his application in July 2013—announced in November 2014 that Snowden had not renewed his request and was not being considered for German asylum.
Global surveillance disclosures
The exact size of Snowden's disclosure is unknown, but Australian officials have estimated 15,000 or more Australian intelligence files and British officials estimate at least 58,000 British intelligence files. NSA Director Keith Alexander initially estimated that Snowden had copied anywhere from 50,000 to 200,000 NSA documents. Later estimates provided by U.S. officials were on the order of 1.7 million. In July 2014, The Washington Post reported on a cache previously provided by Snowden from domestic NSA operations consisting of "roughly 160,000 intercepted e-mail and instant-message conversations, some of them hundreds of pages long, and 7,900 documents taken from more than 11,000 online accounts."
In March 2014, Army General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee, "The vast majority of the documents that Snowden … exfiltrated from our highest levels of security … had nothing to do with exposing government oversight of domestic activities. The vast majority of those were related to our military capabilities, operations, tactics, techniques and procedures." When retired NSA director Keith Alexander was asked in a May 2014 interview to quantify the number of documents Snowden stole, Alexander answered, "I don't think anybody really knows what he actually took with him, because the way he did it, we don't have an accurate way of counting. What we do have an accurate way of counting is what he touched, what he may have downloaded, and that was more than a million documents."
According to Snowden, he did not indiscriminately turn over documents to journalists, stating that "I 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" and that "I have to screen everything before releasing it to journalists … If I have time to go through this information, I would like to make it available to journalists in each country."
In late June 2014, the NSA's recently installed director, U.S. Navy Admiral Michael S. Rogers, claimed that some terrorist groups had altered their communications to avoid surveillance techniques revealed by Snowden, but that the alleged damage done was not significant enough to conclude that "the sky is falling."