An ex-CIA employee working as a contractor at the US National Security Agency reveals he is the whistleblower who leaked details of a top secret surveillance programme.
Edward Snowden, 29, said he was acting out of conscience to protect “basic liberties for people around the world” when he leaked details of the Prism spying programme.
Speaking from a hotel room in Hong Kong, Mr Snowden said he felt the US was constructing an unaccountable and secret espionage machine that spied on every American.
The former CIA technical assistant said he worked at the top-secret NSA as an employee of contractor Booz Allen but decided to leak information after becoming disenchanted with President Barack Obama.
He revealed the existence of the Prism system last week. Reports by the Guardian and Washington Post showed how America’s National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI were given access to the systems of nine of the world’s top internet companies.
“I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under,” he told the Guardian in a video interview.
(Video courtesy of The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras)
The Guardian investigation revealed that US security services had monitored data phone calls from Verizon and mined data from large companies such as Google and Facebook.
Mr Snowden sought to be identified yesterday, reveaing how he worked at the NSA for four years as a contractor with outside companies.
He revealed that three weeks ago he copied secret documents at the NSA office in Hawaii and told his employers he needed time off for treatment for epilepsy before flying to Hong Kong.
Mr Snowden said: “The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything.
“With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.”
A spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence said the intelligence community was reviewing damage done by the recent leaks.
“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 US Justice Department said yesterday it was in the initial stages of a criminal investigation following the leaks.
GCHQ is reported to have had access to the Prism system since 2010, with claims that 197 intelligence reports were run through the system in the 12 months up to May 2012.
Major-General Jonathan Shaw, former head of cyber security at the Ministry of Defence, has defended the British intelligence services, insisting all public data was handled sensitively.
“There is no such thing as total security, just as there’s no such thing as total freedom,” he said.
Tory Sir Malcolm Rifkind, chairman of the committee of MPs that oversees the security services, said GCHQ would need authority for any request to monitor the emails of a UK citizen.
Foreign Secretary William Hague will face questions from MPs later today about what role QCHQ may have played in the Prism scandal.
Prime Minister David Cameron said the British intelligence services were necessary to protect people in a “dangerous world”, but they were subject to “proper scrutiny”.