Edward Snowden: The NSA whistleblower unmasks

The whistleblower who leaked Top Secret documents to the <em>Guardian</em> about NSA domestic spying practices has revealed himself to be 29-year-old Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee.

In an absolutely stunning Guardian profile, Edward Snowden describes how he leaked the documents to the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald from a Hong Kong hotel room, padding the door and keeping a hood over his head, and covering his computer's webcam, to protect himself while he made the first leak of a "Top Secret" classified document since the Pentagon Papers in 1971, in what represents one of the most serious leaks in US history and what may come to be one of the defining moments of Obama's Presidency. 

"I'm willing to sacrifice all of that because I can't in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building," he told the Guardian.

Snowden says that he chose Hong Kong, a semi-autonomously governed region of China, because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”, but also, the Guardian reports, because he believed it both could and would resist the dictates of the US government.

This story comes just hours after the former director of the NSA under George W. Bush told the Guardian that surveillance has “expanded” under Obama's administration.

Obama, is en route – ironically – back to Washington from meeting the new Chinese President Xi Jinping in California, where he was scheduled to complain about Chinese cyber-hacking of American secrets. It is not known whether they mentioned the NSA surveillance scandal in their conversation – nor even whether the White House or the US security forces had any idea where the Guardian's leaks were coming from.

At time of press, the President has not yet responded to the identification of Snowden, though he did say yesterday that he “welcomes a debate” on national security – a statement it can only be imagined was given through gritted teeth, especially as Rand Paul, the libertarian Senator, said yesterday that he was considering leading a class action law suit against the government. This, it is fair to say, is not going to be a debate that the President relishes.

Before Snowden revealed his identity, the Department of Justice had said that it will seek to prosecute the perpetrators of leaks of American secrets, though Attorney General Eric Holder also said that no journalist would be prosecuted “for doing his or her job”.

Update: this piece was corrected at 9:39 PM to read "it is not known whether they mentioned the NSA surveillance" instead of the earlier, incorrect spelling of "NRA".

Edward Snowden. Photograph: The Guardian via Getty Images

Nicky Woolf is a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

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Would you jump off a cliff if someone told you to? One time, I did

I was walking across the bridge in Matlock park, which is about 12 feet high, with a large group of other kids from my year, in the pouring rain.

Ever heard the phrase, “Would you jump off a cliff if they told you to?” It was the perpetual motif of my young teenage years: my daily escapades, all of which sprang from a need to impress a peer, were distressing and disgusting my parents.

At 13, this tomboyish streak developed further. I wrote urgent, angry poems containing lines like: “Who has desire for something higher than jumping for joy and smashing a light?” I wanted to push everything to its limits, to burst up through the ceiling of the small town I lived in and land in America, or London, or at least Derby. This was coupled with a potent and thumping appetite for attention.

At the height of these feelings, I was walking across the bridge in Matlock park, which is about 12 feet high, with a large group of other kids from my year, in the pouring rain. One of the cool girls started saying that her cousin had jumped off the bridge into the river and had just swum away – and that one of us should do it.

Then someone said that I should do it, because I always did that stuff. More people started saying I should. The group drew to a halt. Someone offered me a pound, which was the clincher. “I’m going to jump!” I yelled, and clambered on to the railing.

There wasn’t a complete hush, which annoyed me. I looked down. It was raining very hard and I couldn’t see the bottom of the riverbed. “It looks really deep because of the rain,” someone said. I told myself it would just be like jumping into a swimming pool. It would be over in a few minutes, and then everyone would know I’d done it. No one could ever take it away from me. Also, somebody would probably buy me some Embassy Filter, and maybe a Chomp.

So, surprising even myself, I jumped.

I was about three seconds in the air. I kept my eyes wide open, and saw the blur of trees, the white sky and my dyed red hair. I landed with my left foot at a 90-degree angle to my left ankle, and all I could see was red. “I’ve gone blind!” I thought, then realised it was my hair, which was plastered on to my eyes with rain.

When I pushed it out of the way and looked around, there was no one to be seen. They must have started running as I jumped. Then I heard a voice from the riverbank – a girl called Erin Condron, who I didn’t know very well. She pushed me home on someone’s skateboard, because my ankle was broken.

When we got to my house, I waited for Mum to say, “Would you jump off another cliff if they told you to?” but she was ashen. I had to lie that Dave McDonald’s brother had pushed me in the duck pond. And that’s when my ankle started to throb. I never got the pound, but I will always be grateful to Erin Condron. 

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser