Edward Snowden was living comfortably in Hawaii when he made a decision that would change his life — and possibly also the way Americans feel about our intelligence organizations. When Snowden released NSA documents indicating that government data collection on U.S. citizens was far vaster than most people suspected, he knew he’d have to leave his home and family behind, possibly forever. He also became an immediate figure of fascination. Despite Snowden’s protests that the story isn’t about him, it’s hard not to wonder where he came from. The short answer? Just down the road!
According to a lengthy profile in The Guardian, Snowden was born in North Carolina but later moved to Maryland with his family. A not-so-hot student, Snowden took computing classes at a local community college before eventually dropping out of high school. (He later earned his GED.)
When he was 19, Snowden enlisted in the army (“I wanted to fight in the Iraq war because I felt like I had an obligation as a human being to help free people from oppression,” he told the Guardian.) After being discharged (he’d broken both his legs in a training exercise), Snowden started working for the NSA, but at a fairly low level — he was a security guard for one of the agency’s covert facilities at the University of Maryland. It wasn’t long before his computer skills got him ever-higher positions with the CIA and later a private contractor working with the NSA. He did stints in Switzerland and Japan, and became increasingly disillusioned with the role of the US government and its use of ubiquitous surveillance. “I don’t see myself as a hero,” he told the Guardian, “because what I’m doing is self-interested: I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.”
And then came last week’s leak. Snowden is currently holed up in a hotel room in Hong Kong (or that’s where he was yesterday, at least). I imagine he doesn’t have any plans to return to Maryland anytime soon. Meanwhile, in other Marylander/NSA news, David Simon is getting some attention in the media for a widely-circulated blog post that basically says “NSA secret data collection? NBD!”
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