Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, modified by Curiousmatic.

Understanding Edward Snowden: From High School Dropout To Nobel Prize Candidate

Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, modified by Curiousmatic. 

Infamous NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has been reportedly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Norwegian lawmakers. Here’s a closer look at the man behind the epic US intelligence leakage.

Former NSA worker Edward Snowden has gradually been releasing classified surveillance information and gaming the news cycle since June of 2013.

Currently living in Russia under political asylum, Snowden has taken substantial risks in the name of privacy rights and global transparency, and has since been branded both traitor and hero – but what’s his full story?

Humble beginnings

According to the Guardian, Edward Snowden was born in North Carolina on June 21, 1983, after which his family moved to Maryland. There, Snowden started high school before dropping out in 10th grade to study computers at Anne Arundel Community College.

Snowden later earned a GED and spent a brief five months in the Army Reserves’ special-forces, which he could not complete after being discharged for breaking both of his legs in a training accident.

Dropout turned government worker

Several years after his military attempt, Snowden was hired as a security guard for the National Security Agency (NSA) in Maryland.

From there, he was able to join the CIA where he worked in IT Security, for which he worked undercover in Geneva, Switzerland. It was there, he tells the Guardian, that he first became disillusioned with U.S intelligence.

After leaving the CIA in 2009, ABC News says Snowden worked for the NSA as a contractor in Japan, then Hawaii, where he began collecting top secret intelligence information and even reaching out to journalists with leak offers.

How much did he steal? Sources say an astounding 1.7 million classified documents, including NSA blueprints – all of which he may still have access to, though he claims they were all passed on to journalists.

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Blowing the whistle and fleeing the country

In May of 2013, a month before the first leak would be published, Snowden quit his job with the NSA (requesting time off for epilepsy treatment) and broke things off with his girlfriend to flee to Hong Kong.

There, he taped an interview for the Guardian, explaining that he didn’t “want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded.”

The first of the leaks broke on June 6 with news on the NSA’s telephone record collection, which was followed with even bigger news revealing the NSA’s “PRISM” –  a program that collected data through numerous internet giants such as Google, Facebook, and Yahoo.

Snowden was named (with permission) by the Guardian on June 9th,  according to the BBC, when he spoke publicly from Hong Kong.

U.S. reaction

The U.S. reacted with predictable hostility to Snowden’s accusations, branding him a traitor and calling for his extradition from China for eventual prosecution.

According to the BBC, he has been charged with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified communications intelligence – each of which carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.

As the U.S. pressured China for extradition, Snowden released more info on the NSA’s hacking in China and fled for Moscow, where he spent over a month in the airport awaiting political asylum.

Russian asylum and more revelations

Though Snowden’s grants for political asylum were accepted by Nicaragua and Venezuela, he was unable to travel to Latin America with the U.S. at his tail, and instead settled for temporary (one year) asylum in Russia – granted by Vladimir Putin to the dismay of America.

Since then, Snowden has stayed out of the public’s eye, though many NSA revelations have continued steadily into 2014 – despite one of Putin’s asylum agreements being that he ceased embarrassing the U.S.

And in fact, the end is not in sight – in December, Snowden stated that only 1% of leaks were already published – meaning the worst, or at least the bulk of reveals may still be yet to come.

While many proclaim Snowden a hero, others say his leaks have put America’s security at enormous risk, damaged the NSA’s reputation, and downplayed the real threat of terrorism.

And what’s next for Snowden? Russia may extend his asylum past July 31, the Guardian says, while German supporters are pushing for asylum permission as well. Whatever the case, the U.S. will likely do its best to get him back for a trial, where he could face 30 or more years in prison.

Jennifer Markert