The American at the centre of his country’s biggest-ever confidentiality controversy, Edward Snowden, insisted he went public about his country’s programme to spy on ordinary citizens because his conscience got the better of him.
Snowden said in an interview: “If I had just wanted to harm the US, you could shut down the surveillance system in an afternoon. But that’s not my intention. I think for anyone making that argument, they need to think: if they were in my position… you know, you live a privileged life, you’re living in Hawaii, in paradise and making a tonne of money… What would it take to make you leave everything behind?”
The Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corporation – subcontracted to the National Security Agency – paid Snowden a salary of 122,000 dollars per year. He is said to have handled information classified as secret, about ways to use the Internet and telecommunications systems to collect data – which would be stored indefinitely.
Carrying supportive evidence, he left Hawaii for Hong Kong without even telling his fiancee, on 20 May.
Once in China, he told his story to the Washington Post and Guardian newspapers. He hid at the Hotel Mira for three weeks, then moved furtively to an apartment in the city.
After he came forward by name as the source of the revelations, he was afraid he would end up held in a Hong Kong jail. It has an extradition treaty with the United States.
So he negotiated a deal with the Chinese. (US officials said they did not know how much sensitive material Snowden had.)
Albert Ho, a lawyer in the Hong Kong legislature, said: “The information was passed to Snowden through this middle person that he was asked to leave Hong Kong, and he was given assurance that he could leave Hong Kong without being stopped at the airport.”
Sarah Harrison of the online disclosure organisation WikiLeaks accompanied him. He flew commercial Aeroflot to Moscow Sunday, perhaps not going through airport passport control.
An airport source said he had been booked on a flight to Cuba on Monday but did not board. WikiLeaks said Snowden is travelling on a refugee document of passage provided by Ecuador, which has no extradition treaty with the US.