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NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: How did a subcontractor get access to top classified files?

By Randell Suba , Jun 13, 2013 09:53 AM EDT
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Edward Snowden who leaked classified documents pointing to the data-mining program of the U.S. government has sparked a debate among Americans whether he is a hero or a traitor. The arguments will be long and everyone is still wondering why and how the 29-year old National Security Agency (NSA) subcontractor did it.

At the moment, Snowden is a fugitive. He's holed up in Hong Kong from where he intends to blurt out more secrets of the U.S. government.

Snowden first leaked the information about the PRISM project to journalists of The Guardian. The Washington Post also published a story. According to The Guardian, the leaker opted not to approach traditional media and instead chose institutions that are social media savvy and anti-establishment. Snowden leaked the information to The Guardian in a cramped hotel room overlooking Kowloon Park in Hong Kong.

The Guardian also published a profile of Snowden. The article described Snowden as a computing student in Maryland but he failed to finish his course. He tried out to join the Special Forces but was discharged after an accident where he broke his legs.

Snowden served as a security guard for the NSA and then later on as IT security for the CIA. Because of his computer prowess, he was sent to Geneva for a CIA post in 2007 and was given a diplomatic cover.

"Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world. I realised that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good," Snowden told the publication.

In 2009, Snowden left the agency to work for Booz Allen Hamilton where he was fielded to the NSA and was assigned in Hawaii.

Booz Allen has confirmed that Snowden has been terminated for violating the company's terms and policies.

Amid the PRISM controversy, the South China Morning Post published as story detailing Snowden's claim that the U.S. government also grabbed data from people in Hong Kong and China.

"We hack network backbones - like huge internet routers, basically - that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one." Snowden said in an interview with the Chinese newspaper.

Snowden disclosed that there were over 61,000 hacking operations of the NSA but did not detail how he obtained the information.

Matthew Dunn published his thoughts on Huffington Post. Dunn is a former intelligence operative of the M16, the British intelligence agency, who ran spy operations in hostile territories across the globe.

From a spy's perspective, Dunn sees Snowden as a pawn in these intelligence games and China is the king. He does not see Snowden as a whistleblower who will do it because he sees the United States violating the rights of its citizens. The U.S. has been instigating that China has been hacking its systems and China has found a way to retaliate.

"Against a backdrop of scathing U.S criticism of China's cyber attacks against America, China decided to hit back at America with an clever tactic: credibly expose American espionage activities that undermine the constitutional rights of American citizens, and thereby get America to tear apart the NSA to the extent the agency's future capabilities will be diminished," Dunn wrote.

Dunn theorized that the intelligence agencies of China had profiled Snowden as someone who can serve them. He was recruited and monetarily motivated. The former NSA contractor is in Hong Kong because there, China can protect him.

Edward Snowden. A traitor to some, a hero to some. Whistleblower or leaker. As much questions the PRISM revelation has created, so does Snowden's acts. Where does his loyalty lie? China or the U.S.?

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