Edward Snowden is easily recognised as the seemingly innocuous man who sparked major global upheaval when he released thousands of top-secret government documents in 2013. The documents revealed that the American government was not only spying on its citizens but also on other world leaders who were supposed to be their allies.
These revelations impacted many military operations and sparked a debate about the importance of individual privacy vis-à-vis national security. Snowden himself was later charged with espionage and stealing state secrets.
How Snowden’s NSA Career Sparked His Turn As A U.S. Fugitive
Edward Snowden first worked as a security guard at an NSA-affiliated research facility in 2005. Even though he had no formal degree or training, his computer skills were quite exceptional and the CIA hired him in 2006. Snowden would go on to spend three years with them, during which he served as a top cybersecurity expert.
Edward Snowden joined the NSA in 2009, working for contract companies such as Dell and Booz Allen Hamilton. During his four-year stint, he discovered that the NSA had developed secret surveillance programs. He also found the agency used the programs to harvest private data of American citizens, world leaders, and several countries.
The surveillance program’s magnitude disillusioned him and he reported it to top-level officials who did nothing. He then reached his breaking point in March 2013 when the then-director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, told Congress that no such surveillance program existed.
Frustrated by the lack of punitive response, Snowden contracted renowned journalist Glenn Greenwald and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras in May. The documents which he had retrieved were later published by Guardian and several media outlets around the world.
His Revelation Showed The US Collected Data On Several Global Leaders
The former NSA contractor did not have an elaborate plan to blow the whistle on his country, at least not at first. As revealed in his memoir, Permanent Record, and interview with The Guardian, the thought first occurred to him at a conference he attended perchance on Chinese citizen surveillance by its government.
He figured the US was probably doing it too if China was and it turned out he was right. Upon investigation, Snowden found that the NSA had been collecting phone records and internet data of millions of Americans.
In a surveillance program called Prism, the security agency had direct access to the servers of tech giants like Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, among others. The US government wasn’t the only one to take advantage of Prism, however. UK intelligence agency, GCHQ, was also reported to have tapped up to 600 million communications daily via fibre-optic cables.
Subsequent leaks sourced to Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA breach of global systems included China networks and EU offices. It also showed that the agency intercepted the phone calls of 35 world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
This surveillance operation was so far-reaching, it targeted 38 embassies, Latin American countries, and over 200 million text messages daily across the globe.
Accusations Of Espionage Forced Edward Snowden To Flee The US
The massive scale on which Snowden exposed the NSA’s illegal surveillance of its own and foreign citizens was not well-received by the US government. As the backlash came from left, right and centre, the government moved to make a scapegoat of the whistleblower.
In the previously mentioned interview, Snowden said they wanted him gone, one way or another. He was in Hong Kong when he went public as the source of the leak on 9 June 2013.
By the 21st of the same month, the US had filed charges of espionage against him and asked the country to detain him for extradition. Snowden, however, made it out of Hong Kong two days later, based on a technicality.
He Sought Asylum In Russia
On 23 June 2013, Edward Snowden, a wanted man in his country, landed in Moscow. A week later, Russia revealed he had sought asylum, making it one of the 20 countries in which he applied for the same.
He was eventually offered permanent refuge in Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Venezuela. However, Snowden went with the temporary asylum granted by Russia on 1 August, after staying at the Sheremetyevo airport for over a month.
His efforts led to upheaval within and outside the US government, with surveillance policies re-examined. Nevertheless, on top of being hunted by the government, a large percentage of the public also stood against him.
In his first year in Russia, Snowden faced fears of being targeted, tortured, or taken back to the US, where decades of prison time awaited him.
Edward Snowden Is At Home Away From Home
The whistleblower currently resides in a two-bedroom flat in Moscow. His temporary asylum status was not only renewed but got upgraded to a three-year residence permit in August 2014. Given a choice to either extend the permit or apply to become a citizen, Snowden sure seems welcomed in Russia.
Unlike when he first arrived in the country and had to take extreme security measures and maintain a low profile, the former intelligence contractor says things have since softened. His residential address remains undisclosed but he now gets to travel and see the sights as he pleases as opposed to when he had to stay indoors or move around in disguise.
He makes ends meet by speaking via video links with students, activists, and many other groups worldwide. His memoir Permanent Record, released in more than 20 countries in September 2019, should also earn him royalties but for the US government suing him for all the returns for NDA violations.
Seven years ago, as the news declared I was being charged as a criminal for speaking the truth, I never imagined that I would live to see our courts condemn the NSA's activities as unlawful and in the same ruling credit me for exposing them.
And yet that day has arrived. https://t.co/FRdG2zUA4U
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) September 2, 2020
Notwithstanding, growing pardon speculations and the appeal court ruling the leaked NSA surveillance as illegal suggests Edward Snowden might soon be a free man again.
Snowden Is Married To The Love Of His Life, Lindsay Mills
Snowden may be a controversial whistleblower with global repercussions but his love life has not wavered. The former NSA analyst is married to the love of his life and fellow Maryland native, Lindsay Mills.
A little background research on Mills reveals that she attended Laurel High School and received her diploma in 2003. She also studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art and graduated in 2007. Mills is now an accomplished acrobat, pole dancing performing artist, and blogger.
Edward Snowden and Lindsay Mills met online around 2005 and began dating not long after. Although they lived together at the time, he reportedly did not share his whistleblowing plans with her to prevent her from being an accessory.
The couple has maintained their relationship despite the fallout from Snowden’s revelations. The fact that he now resides in faraway Russia did not dampen their love either.
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Mills moved to be with him in exile in October 2014, where the couple secretly married at a Russian courthouse in 2017. She often posts pictures from their time together on her Instagram account.