Updated: 6:30 p.m. June 9
A 29-year-old man who said he is behind the leaks exposing NSA surveillance on American citizens revealed his identity Sunday in an interview with The Guardian.
Edward Snowden, a former CIA communications expert and current defense contractor living in Hawaii, said that he released the documents to alert the American public about what is being done in their name.
"I'm willing to sacrifice all of that because I can't in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, Internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building," Snowden said to The Guardian.
Roughly two weeks ago Snowden said that he told his superiors at Booz Allen Hamilton, a firm where he earned $200,000 a year working on a contract with the NSA, that he was seeking treatment for his epilepsy and would need some time off. He then left on a plane bound for Hong Kong where he set up a meeting with Guardian reporters. Snowden first sent documents to reporters three weeks ago and said that he acted alone, the paper reported.
In a statement released Sunday afternoon, Booz Allen Hamilton said that Snowden had worked for the firm for less than three months.
"We will work closely with our clients and authorities in their investigation of this matter," the statement read.
James Clapper, Jr., director of National Intelligence had said Saturday that the Justice Department was already investigating who leaked documents detailing the NSA's collecting of telephone information from Verizon Wireless customers, and the PRISM program, which allows the government to tap into the servers of major internet companies in the U.S. and UK.
Snowden, who served some time in the Army, said that he first thought about exposing government secrets while serving with the CIA in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2007 but hoped that the Obama presidency would rein in the intelligence gathering behavior. Instead, Snowden said he witnessed the president advance the same programs that he objected to, which "hardened" him to reveal the information.
He said his motivation for coming forward was to "inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them."
President Obama defended government surveillance Friday, insisting that, "Nobody is looking at your telephone calls."
“What the intelligence community is doing is looking at phone numbers and durations of calls. They are not looking at people’s names and they’re not looking at content,” Obama said.
Snowden said in an interview with the Washington Post that a lack of accountability in the Bush Administration led to the current abuses.
"It set an example that when powerful figures are suspected of wrongdoing, releasing them from the accountability of law if 'for our own good,'" he said to the paper. "That's corrosive to the basic fairness of society."
In a note sent along with the first package of documents to Guardian reporters, Snowden wrote that he accepted that his life would change as a result of his decision.
"I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions," Snowden wrote. "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."
In a statement, a spokesperson for the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) referred questions on Snowden to the Department of Justice but said the intelligence community is "currently reviewing the damage that has been done by these recent disclosures."
"Any person who has a security clearance knows that he or she has an obligation to protect classified information and abide by the law," said Shawn Turner, director of public affairs at ODNI, in a statement.
Snowden told The Guardian that he hoped to seek asylum in Iceland—which has strong Internet freedom laws—but that he understood that may never happen.