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What Little We Know About the NSA Leaker

Profiles describe Snowden as being fully aware of the risks he took, both in revealing the data and in coming forward.

The man behind a set of astounding leaks about top-secret government data-gathering efforts has unmasked himself. The Guardian and The Washington Post, both of which published details about a highly classified NSA data-mining program late last week, unveiled the man behind those revelations as Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former government contractor.

Both profiles describe him as being fully aware of the risks he took, both in revealing the data and in coming forward. Here are some of the most fascinating details to come forward from the revelation.

  • He believed the NSA would not have hesitated to kill a journalist. Barton Gellman, a former Post journalist who returned to that newspaper to report on the data-gathering last week, wrote in a profile of his exchanges with Snowden that the 29-year-old believed Gellman's life was at risk until he published the leaked information. Here's how Gellman put it:

    "The U.S. intelligence community, he wrote, "will most certainly kill you if they think you are the single point of failure that could stop this disclosure and make them the sole owner of this information. I did not believe that literally, but I knew he had reason to fear."

  • He used the code name Verax, Latin for "truth teller," in exchanges with The Post. Snowden wasn't the first to use the codename. Here's The Post on the historical antecedents: "Two British dissenters had used the pseudonym. Clement Walker, a 17th-century detractor of Parliament, died in the brutal confines of the Tower of London. Two centuries later, social critic Henry Dunckley adopted 'Verax' as his byline over weekly columns in the Manchester Examiner. He was showered with testimonials and an honorary degree."

  • He may have been a Ron Paul supporter. Snowden said he contributed to a third-party candidate in 2008 and said he has lived in Maryland and Hawaii. Though unconfirmed, campaign-contribution records show that an Edward Snowden in each state donated $250 to Ron Paul's campaign in 2012.

  • Nearly all of his employer's revenues last year came from the government.Booz Allen Hamilton, Snowden's employer in Hawaii, earned 98 percent of its revenues in the fiscal year that ended in March from the government, according to The New York TImes:

    "Thousands of people formerly employed by the government, and still approved to deal with classified information, now do essentially the same work for private companies. Mr. Snowden, who revealed on Sunday that he provided the recent leak of national security documents, is among them."

  • He may have made a mistake in moving to Hong Kong after the leak. The Wall Street Journal reports that several Hong Kong lawyers found Snowden's decision to move to Hong Kong, before seeking asylum in a sympathetic country, misguided:

    "'We work very closely with U.S. authorities,' said Regina Ip, current legislator and former security secretary, who described Mr. Snowden's choice of location as 'really being based on unfortunate ignorance.'"

    Politico reported that "he'll have to navigate a labyrinthine international legal system" along the way.

  • He never expected to get away with it undetected. Both The Guardian and The Postquote Snowden acknowledging that he expected he would be discovered. "You can't protect the source," he told Gellman, adding later "there's no saving me."

  • He says he was granted broad "wire-tapping" authorities. In a video interview withThe Guardian, Snowden claims to have had incredibly broad authority to wiretap Americans, saying "I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the President, if I had a personal e-mail."