Edward Snowden is an American intelligence contractor who in 2013 revealed the existence of secret wide-ranging information-gathering programs conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA).
Snowden was born in North Carolina but at a young age his family moved to central Maryland, a short distance from NSA headquarters at Fort Meade. He dropped out of high school and studied intermittently between 1999 and 2005 at a community college. Snowden completed a GED but did not receive a college degree. In 2004 he enlisted in the army reserve as a special forces candidate, but he was discharged four months later. In 2005 he worked as a security guard at the Center for Advanced Study of Language, a University of Maryland research facility affiliated with the NSA. Despite a relative lack of formal education and training, Snowden demonstrated an aptitude with computers, and he was hired by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2006. He was given a top secret clearance and in 2007 was posted to Geneva, where he worked as a network security technician under a diplomatic cover. Snowden left the CIA for the NSA in 2009, there he worked as a private contractor for the companies Dell and Booz Allen Hamilton. During this time, he began gathering information on a number of NSA activities—most notably, secret surveillance programs that he believed were overly broad in size and scope. In May 2013 Snowden requested a medical leave of absence and flew to Hong Kong, where during the following month he conducted a series of interviews with journalists from the newspaper The Guardian. Among the NSA secrets leaked by Snowden was a court order that compelled telecommunications company Verizon to turn over metadata (such as numbers dialed and duration of calls) for millions of its subscribers. Snowden also disclosed the existence of PRISM, a data-mining program that reportedly gave the NSA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Government Communications Headquarters—Britain’s NSA equivalent—“direct access” to the servers of such Internet giants as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple.
Snowden is the subject of two major films – Citizenfour, a documentary which won the Academy 2015 Award for Best Documentary Feature and the upcoming film, Snowden a biographical political thriller based on the book, The Snowden Files by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena.