As Barack Obama’s presidency comes to a close, small government libertarians, anti-war progressives, and privacy activists have all called for a last-minute pardon of NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
To some, the polarizing former NSA contractor is a traitor. To others, he’s a hero.
In all likelihood, Snowden will remain in Russia, where he’s been residing since he released classified US documents in 2013. The White House and the intelligence community are still deeply angered by Snowden’s leaks. That’s all to say that Snowden shouldn’t hold his breath for a presidential pardon.
Here are 11 things you need to know about Edward Snowden:
1. In May of 2013, Snowden contacted reporters from The Washington Post and The Guardian to reveal classified information he gathered as an NSA contractor.
2. Snowden revealed the existence of the NSA’s PRISM program. PRISM was a surveillance program that gathered information from major tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft in order to monitor potential threats against the homeland.
3. Snowden was a community college dropout who was making over $200k a year. Before leaving to Hong Kong to leak classified information, Snowden worked for Booz Allen Hamilton, a prominent defense company that had contracts with the NSA and other US intelligence agencies. He worked at a facility in Hawaii.
4. Snowden was a Ron Paul supporter. According to The Washington Post, “Snowden made a $250 donation to Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign in March of that year.” Snowden himself suggested that he wasn’t a fan of both major parties. “A lot of people in 2008 voted for Obama. I did not vote for him. I voted for a third party,” Snowden told The Guardian. “But I believed in Obama’s promises. I was going to disclose it [but waited because of his election]. He continued with the policies of his predecessor.”
5. Snowden enlisted in the army in 2003 only to be discharged shortly after. He wanted to work in Special Forces. The Guardian reports: “In 2003, he enlisted in the US army and began a training program to join the Special Forces. Invoking the same principles that he now cites to justify his leaks, he said: ‘I wanted to fight in the Iraq war because I felt like I had an obligation as a human being to help free people from oppression.’ He recounted how his beliefs about the war’s purpose were quickly dispelled. ‘Most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone,’ he said. After he broke both his legs in a training accident, he was discharged.”
6. After spending years working for US intelligence agencies, Snowden has become increasingly paranoid. Here’s The Guardian’s report again: “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.”
7. The White House has rejected a petition calling for the president to pardon Edward Snowden. Back in 2015, nearly 167,000 people signed a petition in support of Snowden. It was promptly rejected by the federal government. To this day, the White House holds that Snowden should return to the United States and face criminal prosecution.
8. House Intelligence issued a 36-page report in September of 2016, arguing that Snowden’s leaks have caused “caused tremendous damage” to US national security. The report detailed the fact that Snowden’s leaks were selective insofar as they revealed information on US intelligence and defense programs of major interest to American enemies.
9. Many security analysts believe that Snowden has cooperated with the Russians. There’s no way to enter Vladimir Putin’s backyard with a head full of information about US surveillance and intelligence operations and a live a quiet life in the Russian countryside unmolested. It’s not a coincidence that Snowden has been slow to critique the Russian government for its rampant abuse of civil liberties. While the former NSA contractor may like us to believe that his live video chats are done independently, the truth is Snowden’s singularly negative focus on the United States plays right into Russia’s anti-West propaganda machine.
10. On December 22, 2016, Congress released a report confirming that Snowden has indeed been in contact with Russian intelligence officers since arriving in Russia. Snowden quickly denied the claims, posting on Twitter: “they claim without evidence that I’m in cahoots with the Russians.”
11. Snowden has kept a relatively low public profile since 2013. He’s rarely seen in public. However, he did create an official Twitter account in September of 2015. He gained nearly 110,000 followers in less than an hour after making his account. He routinely posts about US domestic policy and matters related to civil liberties, privacy, and surveillance. He only follows one Twitter account: the NSA.
Top image (Getty Images): Snowden talks to the audience and answers questions through a live connection from Russia at the premiere of the movie ‘Snowden’ in Amsterdam, on November 10, 2016.