Edward Snowden, 29, is at the epicenter of the biggest intelligence leak in the NSA's history and has reached out to the Guardian to tell his story.
Here's 5 fast facts you need to know.
1. He Used to Work for the CIA
The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.
2. He Worked at the NSA Office in Hawaii & Escaped to Hong Kong
Three weeks ago, Snowden made final preparations that resulted in last week's series of blockbuster news stories. At the NSA office in Hawaii where he was working, he copied the last set of documents he intended to disclose.
He then advised his NSA supervisor that he needed to be away from work for "a couple of weeks" in order to receive treatment for epilepsy, a condition he learned he suffers from after a series of seizures last year.
As he packed his bags, he told his girlfriend that he had to be away for a few weeks, though he said he was vague about the reason. "That is not an uncommon occurrence for someone who has spent the last decade working in the intelligence world."
On May 20, he boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he has remained ever since. He chose the city because "they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent", and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US government.
3. He is Scared of Being Spied On & the Future
Because he has worked for the NSA and knows what they are capable of, Snowden talks about what some may view as "extreme" measures. Per his Guardian interview:
He is deeply worried about being spied on. He lines the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping. He puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords to prevent any hidden cameras from detecting them.
Furthermore, he is scared about the future because despite Hong Kong's politics, he knows how far the CIA's hands reach.
"We have got a CIA station just up the road – the consulate here in Hong Kong – and I am sure they are going to be busy for the next week. And that is a concern I will live with for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be."
Having watched the Obama administration prosecute whistleblowers at a historically unprecedented rate, he fully expects the US government to attempt to use all its weight to punish him. "I am not afraid," he said calmly, "because this is the choice I've made."
He predicts the government will launch an investigation and "say I have broken the Espionage Act and helped our enemies, but that can be used against anyone who points out how massive and invasive the system has become".
4. He Did it As a Matter of Principal
When asked why he did it, Snowden espouses that he was not looking for fortune or fame.
The Guardian reports:
"There are more important things than money. If I were motivated by money, I could have sold these documents to any number of countries and gotten very rich."
For him, it is a matter of principle. "The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to," he said.
His allegiance to internet freedom is reflected in the stickers on his laptop: "I support Online Rights: Electronic Frontier Foundation," reads one. Another hails the online organisation offering anonymity, the Tor Project
5. A Well-Known Politician and Twitter Are Joining his Fight
But Snowden may not be alone.
As reported earlier today, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has announced that he intends to sue the federal government over their invasion of American privacy.
Fox News reports:
Sen. Rand Paul said Sunday he wants to mount a Supreme Court challenge to the federal government logging Americans’ phone calls and Internet activities.
Paul, R-Ky., a leading voice in the Libertarian movement, told “Fox News Sunday” he wants to get enough signatures to file a class-action lawsuit before the high court and will appeal to younger Americans, who appear to be advancing the cause of less government and civil liberties.
“I’m going to be asking all the Internet providers and all of the phone companies: Ask your customers to join me in a class-action lawsuit,” he said. “If we get 10 million Americans saying we don’t want our phone records looked at, then maybe someone will wake up and something will change in Washington.”
Also, Anonymous has come to his rescue, tweeting:
— YourAnonLive (@YourAnonLive) June 9, 2013
What do you think?
Comment below and tell us how you feel about your American rights being infringed upon.
Will you join Snowden's cause? Will you heed Senator Rand Paul's request for a signature?
Check back to Heavy later for the latest as the story builds.