WASHINGTON, Jun 10 – A 29-year-old government contractor revealed himself on Sunday as the source who leaked details of a vast, secret US program to monitor Internet users, as the US spy chief pressed for a criminal probe.
Edward Snowden, who has been working at the National Security Agency for the past four years, admitted his role in a video interview posted on the website of The Guardian, the first newspaper to publish the leaked information.
“My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them,” Snowden said, speaking in Hong Kong.
He said he had gone public because he could not “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.”
A former technical assistant for the CIA, Snowden worked for the NSA as an employee of various outside contractors, including Dell and Booz Allen Hamilton.
In a statement, Booz Allen Hamilton confirmed Snowden had been an employee for “less than three months” and promised to help US authorities investigate the “shocking” claim that he had leaked classified information.
Snowden flew to Hong Kong on May 20 after copying the last set of documents he intended to disclose at the NSA’s office in Hawaii, the Guardian said, adding he has remained there ever since, holed up in a hotel room.
Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China with its own legal rules, has an extradition treaty with the United States. The British-based Guardian said it had revealed Snowden’s identity at his own request.
In a statement responding to Snowden’s decision to go public on Sunday, the office of the Director of National Intelligence said the matter had now been “referred to the Department of Justice.”
“The intelligence community is currently reviewing the damage that has been done by these recent disclosures,” it said.
“Any person who has a security clearance knows that he or she has an obligation to protect classified information and abide by the law.”
The Justice Department confirmed it had launched an investigation into the disclosures but declined further comment.
One US lawmaker, Pete King, Republican chairman of the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, called for Snowden’s extradition to the United States, saying he must be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law.”
The leaks published in The Guardian and The Washington Post have set off a furor, with President Barack Obama and the chief of US intelligence defending the secret programs as vital to keeping Americans safe.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed on Saturday that the NSA uses a program called PRISM to gather data trails left by targeted foreign citizens using the Internet outside the United States.