Britain’s Guardian newspaper has identified a former CIA technical worker as the source of leaked information on a controversial surveillance programme operated by the US government.
The Guardian said on Sunday it published the identity of 29-year-old Edward Snowden, a current employee of defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, at his own request.
“I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” Snowden was quoted as saying.
In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided to the London-based newspaper, he wrote: “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” but “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.”
Booz Allen confirmed on Sunday that Snowden was an employee of the company.
According to the US technology consulting firm, he has worked for Booz Allen for less than three months and was assigned to a team working 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,” Booz Allen said in a statement.
It added that it would cooperate with any investigations into the matter.
The leaks have reopened the debate about privacy concerns versus heightened measure to protect against attacks, and led the US National Security Agency (NSA) to ask the Justice Department to conduct a criminal investigation.
The director of national intelligence, James Clapper, has condemned the revelation of the intelligence-gathering programmes as reckless, and in the past days has taken the rare step of declassifying some details about them to respond to media reports about counterterrorism techniques employed by the government.
I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong ... I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions.
An internet scouring programme, code-named PRISM, allows the NSA and FBI to tap directly into the servers of major US internet companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and AOL, scooping out emails, video chats, instant messages and more to track foreign suspects.
The NSA is also collecting the telephone records of millions of American customers, but not actual conversations.
President Barack Obama, Clapper and others have said the programmes have been authorised by Congress and are subject to strict supervision of a secret court.
Snowden was quoted as saying that his “sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them”.
The Guardian reported that Snowden was working in an NSA office in Hawaii when he copied the last of the documents he planned to disclose and told supervisors that he needed to be away for a few weeks to receive treatment for epilepsy.
He left for Hong Kong on May 20 and has remained there since, according to the newspaper.
Snowden was quoted as saying he chose that city because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent,” and because he believed it was among the spots on the globe that could and would resist the dictates of the US government.
Snowden said he hoped the publicity the leaks have caused would provide him some protection and that he saw asylum, perhaps in Iceland, as a possibility.
“I feel satisfied that this was all worth it. I have no regrets,” he told the Guardian.
Snowden is said to have worked on information-technology security for the CIA and by 2007, was stationed with diplomatic cover in Geneva, Switzerland, responsible for maintaining computer network security.
That gave him clearance to a range of classified documents, according to the report.
“Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world,” he said.
“I realised that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.”
Discussing the naming of Snowden as the source of the leaks, Thomas Drake, a former senior NSA executive who also became a whistleblower, said: “The US intelligence will do everything it can to prosecute Snowden.
“His is a magnificent, extraordinary act of civil disobedience.
“These [spy] programmes have unprecedented administrative access to servers that house subscriber information and they are able to look at it without the subscriber’s knowledge.
Speaking from Washington DC, Drake said: “The [companies involved] can’t reveal the fact that there is any type of arrangement between them and the US government for such an exchange of data or give the government direct access to their servers and the subscriber information is on those servers.
“This goes far beyond any legal mandate, any war on terrorism, or any threat. I mean what’s the probable cause – because they might need the data some time later?”