The Life of Edward Snowden

Hero or villain? Edward Snowden is behind one of the biggest leaks in U.S. history — this is his story.

Whistle-blower sued by the U.S. over new memoir

He’s behind one of the biggest leaks in U.S. history that exposed mass surveillance by the government — and created a global debate over privacy and security. Edward Snowden was born on June 21, 1983 in North Carolina. At 15, he dropped out of high school and took community college classes. At 20, he enlisted in the Army Reserve. He was discharged in September 2004 after breaking his legs.

In 2006, he got an IT job at the CIA. He quit that in 2009 and started working for Dell at NSA facilities in Japan and the U.S. In March 2012, Dell transferred him to an NSA office in Hawaii — where he began downloading classified materials. At 29, he took a job with defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. He allegedly removed over 1.5 million U.S. documents. In June 2013, he met with 2 Guardian journalists and filmmaker Laura Poitras. On June 5, 2013, the newspaper published it’s an article about the NSA’s collection of email and telephone records from Verizon. The next day, The Guardian and The Washington Post ran articles about PRISM — an NSA program that forces internet companies to hand over data on its users.

On June 14, 2013, U.S. prosecutors filed theft and espionage charges against Snowden. June 23, 2013, he left Hong Kong for Ecuador, but was left stranded at the Moscow airport during a layover. After living in an airport for a month, Russia granted him temporary asylum. In December 2013, he was a runner-up to Pope Francis as Time’s Person of the Year. In 2017, Snowden received a 3-year extension to his Russian residency. At 36, Snowden published his memoir, Permanent Record. In September 2019, the U.S. filed a lawsuit against Snowden and his publisher.