A 29-year-old former CIA technical assistant revealed in the British newspaper The Guardian
on Sunday that he is the source who leaked information about vast National Security Agency surveillance programs collecting data about American citizens and foreigners.
Edward Snowden, who works for defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, told The Guardian that he knows there will punishment for exposing the classified information, but said he could not 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."
Following the report, the office of James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said it was "currently reviewing the damage that has been done by these recent disclosures" and referred any further comment to the Justice Department.
A Justice Department statement went no further than acknowledging it is in the initial stages of an investigation.
Booz Allen Hamilton confirmed that Snowden worked there less than three months. The firm called the news reports "shocking" and said it would work closely with authorities during the investigation.
The Guardian reported last week that the Obama administration had been collecting Verizon customers’ phone records in the U.S. Shortly after, The Washington Post reported on a massive NSA program called PRISM, a surveillance program that gathered vast amounts of information about foreigners abroad from the world’s largest web services.
The disclosures led President Barack Obama to declare: "Nobody is listening to your telephone calls." Late last week, the president defended the programs and said Americans must understand that there are "some tradeoffs" between privacy concerns and keeping Americans safe.
Snowden told The Guardian, "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."
The self-identified source of documents and information pertaining to government data collection program said he has been hiding in a hotel room in Hong Kong since divulging the government secrets. For the past three weeks he has only left his room three times and fears he is being spied on, he told the newspaper.
Rep. Peter King, chair of the House Homeland Security subcommittee and a member of the Intelligence Committee, made the first public declaration to prosecute Snowden hours after he revealed himself.
"If Edward Snowden did in fact leak the NSA data as he claims, the United States government must prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law and begin extradition proceedings at the earliest date," the New York Republican said in a statement. "The United States must make it clear that no country should be granting this individual asylum. This is a matter of extraordinary consequence to American intelligence."
Snowden said he has been pleased so far with the fallout from making the information public, and has no regrets.
"You can't wait around for someone else to act," he said. "I had been looking for leaders, but I realized that leadership is about being the first to act."
This story was originally published on Sun Jun 9, 2013 4:18 PM EDT