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May 22, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 11:27am

7 things you should know about the Edward Snowden leaks

Glenn Greenwald's No Place to Hide for the lazy man.

By Jimmy Nicholls

This month saw the release of No Place to Hide, an account by journalist Glenn Greenwald of the Edward Snowden leaks. As one of the two journalists who broke Snowden’s story, Greenwald’s retelling of events is an important reminder of British and American snooping, and provides ample reason to recap on the digital age’s most prominent whistleblower.

1. As a younger man he wanted to fight in the Iraq War "to help free people from oppression"

According to an email sent to the Guardian, Snowden enlisted for the US Army Reserves as a Special Forces recruit. "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 said. He quickly became disillusioned, reporting that those training him were "pumped up about killing Arabs", rather than wishing to effect beneficial regime change in the region. In the end he left after breaking both legs, having not completed any training.

2. While working for the CIA in Geneva, Switzerland, he saw other agents get a banker drunk as part of their operation

Snowden enlisted in the CIA, having worked at the University of Maryland as a security guard following his departure from the army. "[I was] drawn to the C.I.A. by a sense of duty, a desire to contribute," he said. "I wanted to do the hard work, not the easy stuff." Recalling his time in the country, Snowden remembered CIA agents encouraging a banker to drive drunk, leading to the man’s arrest. The spies befriended the banker after offering to help him after the incident. "I realised that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good," Snowden said.

3. Most of the documents he leaked were stolen while he was working for Dell

On leaving the CIA, Snowden joined Dell as a private contractor, beginning at an NSA base in Japan. Vanity Fair reported that most of the documents Snowden would eventually hand to Greenwald were collected during his time with Dell, anywhere between 50,000 to 200,000 files. As a contractor Snowden would move between jobs, often with extensive security clearance which allowed him to gain hold of sensitive information.

4. Working as a contractor he was earning salaries of up to $200,000

Whistleblowing forced Snowden chose to leave a life of considerable comfort. Despite lacking formal qualifications he was earning a $200,000 salary, and even had to take a pay cut when he moved to Booz Allen Hamilton, accepting a measly $122,000 in part so that he could gain access to confidential files. From the outside Snowden would have appeared a huge success, though others have said he appeared to be wrestling with his conscience at times.

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5. He delayed the leaks because of Barrack Obama’s election to president

"Obama’s campaign promises and election gave me faith that he would lead us toward fixing the problems he outlined in his quest for votes," Snowden said, answering questions on the Guardian’s website. Yet he was disappointed by the new president, who he accused of extending the surveillance state in America. He also criticised Obama for failing to close down Guantanamo, believing people to be held there without due process.

6. He uncovered a lot of spying

So many different schemes were revealed by the files that Snowden leaked that it’s been difficult to keep abreast of them all. Most famous among them has been the PRISM programme, used to tap into Google, Apple and Facebook servers to mine data. Perhaps more controversial than the spying on citizens was the tapping of allied leaders, which prompted an outcry among European politicians. Speaking about the powers at he had at his disposal, Snowden said: "I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you, or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the President if I had a personal email."

7. He was presented with a Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence

Four former US security personnel flew over to Russia to meet with Snowden, where he is currently claiming asylum. Jesselyn Radack, a former Justice Department adviser now with the Government Accountability Project said Snowden "spoke very openly about a whole range of things, a number of which I won’t get into here, but it certainly didn’t involve any kind of manipulation by the Russian government or anyone else for that matter". Snowden’s father said he didn’t expect his son to return to the United States, and stories from the leaked information continue to be broken by international press.


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