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Renegade NSA contractor had checkered past

By Shashank Bengali & David S. Cloud

Tribune Washington Bureau

LAST UPDATED: 03:43 p.m. HST, Jun 11, 2013

WASHINGTON » He was a high school dropout, sometime junior college student and failed Army recruit.

But Edward Joseph Snowden found his calling in America’s spy services, using his computer skills to rise from a lowly security position to life as a well-paid private contractor for the National Security Agency. At age 29, he rented a bungalow with his girlfriend north of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and claimed to earn $200,000 a year.

On Monday, hours after he admitted disclosing a trove of intelligence secrets to the media, Snowden checked out of the glitzy Mira Hotel in Hong Kong, where he had holed up for weeks, and dropped out of sight. Whether he has gone into hiding, is seeking asylum with a sympathetic government, or been taken into custody by U.S. or Chinese authorities is unclear.

U.S. intelligence officials scrambled to evaluate the damage and worried whether Snowden will give away, among other intelligence secrets he claimed to know, the locations of every CIA base overseas and identities of its undercover officers. The FBI is investigating and has begun interviewing his family. House and Senate intelligence committees called urgent closed-door hearings today.

Before fleeing, Snowden gave a 12-minute videotaped interview to The Guardian, the British newspaper that broke many of his scoops. In a soft-spoken voice, he said he was determined to shine a light on what he called the federal government’s almost unlimited tracking of private citizens’ phone calls and Internet usage.

“I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded,” he said to the camera.

Snowden’s world began in Elizabeth City, a river port along North Carolina’s coast. His family soon moved to a grey clapboard home in Ellicott City, a Baltimore suburb near NSA’s vast headquarters at Fort Meade. He told the Guardian that he struggled in high school, eventually dropping out. A neighbor, Joyce Kinsey, recalled him as a quiet boy who often was on his computer.

His parents are divorced. His father, Lonnie Snowden, was an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, according to public records, and lives in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, part of the old Rust Belt north of Philadelphia. His mother, Elizabeth Snowden, is chief deputy clerk in charge of administration and information technology at the U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Two people who identified themselves as FBI agents visited the home of Snowden’s father and stepmother Monday afternoon in Upper Macungie Township, near Allentown, Pa. Lonnie Snowden, 52, told ABC News that he last saw his son months ago for dinner and that they parted with a hug.

Susan Gross, a spokeswoman for Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Md., said an Edward Joseph Snowden took classes there intermittently from 1999, when Snowden was about 15, through the fall of 2005. He earned a GED, a high school equivalency credential, but did not get a college degree or certificate.

In May 2004 Snowden enlisted in the Army, hoping to join the Special Forces. He took advantage of an option that allowed recruits to try out directly for the elite force without prior service. He reported to Fort Benning, Ga., but was discharged four months later, the Army said Monday.

Recruits designated for Special Forces normally go through eight to 10 weeks of basic training, followed by an advanced infantry training course, and then Special Forces assessment and selection. Snowden told the Guardian that he left the Army after he broke both legs in a training accident.

An Army spokesman, Lt. Col. S. Justin Platt, confirmed Snowden’s service but said no records indicate he completed even basic training. Platt said he could not comment on Snowden’s claim that he broke his legs in training because it involved medical records.

The following year, Snowden got his start in intelligence by landing a job as a “security specialist” at the Center for the Advanced Study of Languages at the University of Maryland, a spokesman confirmed. The center, run by the NSA, is “dedicated to addressing the language needs of the intelligence community,” according to a university website.

After that, Snowden said, his computer skills helped him get a job with the CIA in information technology.

In 2007, he said, the CIA posted him for two years to Geneva to maintain security for the CIA’s computer network. He lived in an apartment block on the banks of the Rhone River, where the U.S. consulate often housed employees, according to Radio Television Suisse.

The CIA considers Geneva an important spying base because it hosts so many foreign diplomats and financial institutions.

Snowden said he began to grow disillusioned with the CIA while in Switzerland. He claimed that CIA officers deliberately got a Swiss banker drunk, and then offered to fix his drunken-driving arrest if he agreed to disclose secret financial information. He didn’t say if the banker agreed, but the scheme is straight from a CIA playbook.

“I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good,” he said.

Still, Snowden continued to move up the ranks in the intelligence community. His high-level security clearance made him easily employable in the private sector, and in 2009, he said, he left the CIA to work as a contractor at an NSA facility on a military base in Japan.

That’s when he first saw the astonishing breadth of the cyber-agency’s surveillance capabilities, he said.

Snowden became a firm proponent of civil liberties, affixing a sticker to his laptop promoting the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for Internet users’ rights.

In 2012 he made two contributions totaling $500 to the presidential campaign of Ron Paul, the libertarian Republican congressman from Texas, according to federal records. Snowden listed his employer as Dell, the Texas-based computer company. A Dell spokeswoman declined to answer questions Monday about Snowden’s employment.

Sometime that year, Snowden moved to Honolulu. Last March , he took a job with Booz Allen Hamilton, a government contractor, as an infrastructure analyst at the NSA’s huge mountaintop facility on Oahu. He rented a single-story blue bungalow in Waipahu, an upscale suburb 10 miles from the NSA facility.

Documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, who contributed to last week’s stories in both The Guardian and The Washington Post based on documents Snowden said he provided, told Salon on Monday that she was contacted “anonymously” by email in January this year. She denied that she encouraged Snowden to leak national security secrets.

“Are you kidding?” she said. “I didn’t know where he worked, I didn’t know he was NSA, I didn’t know how — nothing. There was no like, ‘Oh do you think you ...,’ no nudging ... There’s no connection here. We were contacted, we didn’t know what he was up to, and at some point he came forward with documents.”

Colby Itkowitz and Daniel Patrick Sheehan of the Allentown Morning Call, and Matthew Hay Brown of The Baltimore Sun contributed to this report.

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Snator wrote:
"He rented a single-story blue bungalow in Waipahu, an upscale suburb 10 miles from the NSA facility." Huh? Waipahu? Upscale? Wow, property values must've gone up!
on June 11,2013 | 11:58AM
Mythman wrote:
What's a "bungalow"?
on June 11,2013 | 02:00PM
sanababeets wrote:
L O L!! if his place is a "bungalow" in Kunia, my place is a HUT!
on June 11,2013 | 02:07PM
kailua000 wrote:
obviously the writers have never been to hawaii. Bungalow's havent been around sice the Elvis movies! I'd better tell my friends in Waipahu they are now upscale! Too funny!
on June 11,2013 | 04:04PM
CriticalReader wrote:
Blah, blah, blah. What we really want to know is, "WHAT did his Kindergarten classmates see in him?" That would be important journalism. Why is it taking this long to get that information?:
on June 11,2013 | 12:18PM
honokai wrote:
They want us to believe that we can trust them with our information, Then they smear one of their own. They can't have it both ways. If he is a "checkered" individual, then why on earth was he given authority to scope is out?
on June 11,2013 | 01:20PM
Mythman wrote:
He was hypnotized then given LSD.
on June 11,2013 | 02:01PM
honokai wrote:
At what point did the news media decide that it should be an arm of the government?
on June 11,2013 | 12:43PM
Oahuan2 wrote:
The fact that the press is using everything they can to make this man look bad only makes him more credible. He brought to light what we needed to know. It does not matter if he has an education or no education, lived in Waipahu or Georgetown. He told the truth about the government's spying on the citizens of this country. Booz Allen may be a company to investigate. Who are they to grab our emails, our phone records, and who holds their feet to the fire? Congress? Right.
on June 11,2013 | 12:49PM
honokai wrote:
His life is clearly a success story. Listen to his interview with the Guardian (UK). He is very well educated. They are currently running the smear right now with full cooperation of multiple media outlets. It is very sad.
on June 11,2013 | 01:14PM
Mythman wrote:
Good Guy Bad Guy --- Bad Guy Good Guy
on June 11,2013 | 02:03PM
scooters wrote:
Army drop out. Yup, one great American.
on June 11,2013 | 02:03PM
Mythman wrote:
Watch out, all of us blogging are on the list.....
on June 11,2013 | 02:02PM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
Don't need the press to convince me this geek is a traitor. What did think the CIA does in Europe? Pass out lollipops? "Getting that Swiss banker drunk" was the last straw? Omg. Oh that Swiss banker that gave out the accounts and names of Al Quida operatives in Europe. That Swiss account banker?
on June 11,2013 | 02:26PM
honokai wrote:
If his life is so checkered, wouldn't that be a reflection on them? And, doesn't anyone find it odd that they ask us to trust them, if they are hiring such a rotten apple?
on June 11,2013 | 01:17PM
scooters wrote:
man, if you can't make it in the Army, you have to be a loser to start with. And just how can this drop out, get a job with any inte agency. Don't they dod a background check on those they hire? Idiot's.
on June 11,2013 | 02:00PM
scooters wrote:
If you can't make it in the army, your a loser for the get go. I'm guessing that there was never a background check on this guy? Other wise why would anyone n the intel business hire a fug like this.
on June 11,2013 | 02:01PM
kailua1044 wrote:
“I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded,” he said to the camera. well he just guaranteed that he, his family and his friends WILL have everything recorded.
on June 11,2013 | 02:10PM
brusselsprouts wrote:
hey i got my ged and was kicked out of the army. ru calling me a loser?
on June 11,2013 | 02:35PM
frontman wrote:
I wondered how long it would take for the lame street media to start using his middle name,Edward Joseph Snowden, throws him right in there with John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, William Jefferson Clinton.
on June 11,2013 | 03:07PM
copperwire9 wrote:
What part is "checkered"?
on June 11,2013 | 03:10PM
honopic wrote:
See how the writers slanted this article against Snowden. Headline - "Renegade" with "checkered past." Text - "Failed army recruit" even though it later admits his discharge was due to two broken legs. "Snowden's world began..." (not "Snowden was born".) "Grey clapboard home" (obviously poor family.) "Lehigh Valley, part of the old Rust Belt..." again, poor or lower middle class. (Did he do it for money?) "Snowden became a firm proponent of civil liberties..."as if that's a bad thing.) (...bungalow in Waipahu, an UPSCALE suburb..." ? If people reading that last one believe it, then they'll believe anything.
on June 11,2013 | 03:14PM
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