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Analyst admits to cyber-spying leaks

An NSA contractor steps forward and calls U.S. surveillance abilities 'horrifying.'

June 10, 2013|Bob Drogin and Katherine Skiba
  • Edward Snowden, an analyst for a company that contracts with the NSA, says he's the source of leaks exposing secret U.S. programs to amass data on U.S. and foreign phone and Internet use.
Edward Snowden, an analyst for a company that contracts with the NSA, says… (Ewen MacAskill / The Guardian )

WASHINGTON — Calling America's spying capabilities "horrifying," a 29-year-old former CIA employee revealed himself Sunday as the primary source of unauthorized disclosures of highly classified U.S. telephone and Internet surveillance systems that were among the intelligence community's most closely held secrets.

Both the Washington Post and the British newspaper the Guardian said Edward J. Snowden gave them his consent to reveal his identity as an analyst for the National Security Agency, which is America's largest spy organization and conducts cyber-spying. Both papers have published a startling series of top-secret documents in recent days.

The Guardian said Snowden was staying in a luxury hotel in Hong Kong and had lined his hotel room door with pillows to prevent eavesdropping.

"I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," he was quoted as saying. He said he expected U.S. authorities to "demonize" him and said he planned to "ask for asylum from any countries that believe in free speech and oppose the victimization of global privacy."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, June 11, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
National security leaks: An article in the June 10 Section A about national security leaks incorrectly described Bradley Manning as a former Army intelligence officer. He is a former intelligence analyst who is an enlisted soldier, not an officer.

In a 12-minute video interview posted on the Guardian website, Snowden wears rimless glasses, short-cropped brown hair and a thin beard.

Snowden identifies himself in the video as an infrastructure analyst at an NSA facility in Hawaii for Booz Allen Hamilton, a major defense contractor. He said he previously worked for the CIA as a systems administrator and telecommunications systems officer.

"I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you, or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the president if I had a personal email," he said.

Snowden said he decided to expose the NSA secrets because "I do not want to live in a society that does these sort of things." He said the agency "collects more digital communications from America than we do from the Russians."

He said he fears authorities "will come after my family, my friends, my partner" because of his actions. The Guardian said he was born in Elizabeth City, N.C., and later he and his family moved to Maryland, near Ft. Meade.

In a statement, Booz Allen confirmed Snowden's employment, saying he had worked for the company less than three months and was assigned to Hawaii. It called the alleged leaks "shocking" and "a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm."

The development was the latest in a dizzying week that saw unauthorized publication of a "Top Secret" order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to authorize collection of domestic telephone records; internal documents and detailed descriptions of an NSA program code-named PRISM that can obtain data on foreigners from U.S. Internet companies; a directive from President Obama ordering preparation of a secret target list for cyber-warfare; and a digital map of the world that shows where the NSA spies the most.

The Guardian said Snowden decided to leak the classified material three weeks ago while working at his desk in Hawaii. It said he copied the documents and then told a supervisor that he needed to go away for several weeks for medical treatment. He left for Hong Kong on May 20.

The Obama administration has prosecuted six people for illegal disclosures of classified information, more than all other administrations combined, and a military court-martial is underway at Ft. Meade of Bradley Manning, a former Army intelligence officer who is accused of violating the espionage act by giving hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. military and diplomatic documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

Snowden praised Manning as "a classic whistle-blower ... [who] was inspired by the public good."

Asked what would happen to him, he replied, "Nothing good."

Given the political furor over the leaks of the NSA programs and other national security secrets last week, U.S. authorities are likely to swiftly seek Snowden's arrest and extradition from Hong Kong, which is part of China. Snowden said he hopes the Hong Kong government does not deport him.

James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said Saturday that the Justice Department had launched an investigation of what he called "reckless disclosures of intelligence community measures used to keep Americans safe."

"For me, it is literally -- not figuratively -- literally gut-wrenching to see this happen because of the huge, grave danger it does to our intelligence capabilities," Clapper said in an interview with NBC.

His spokesman, Shawn Turner, said Sunday that he could not comment on Snowden because the case is under investigation.

"The intelligence community is currently reviewing the damage that has been done by these recent disclosures," he said in a statement. "Any person who has a security clearance knows that he or she has an obligation to protect classified information and abide by the law."

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