NSA leaker recalled as shy, computer-focused teen
As U.S. investigators begin a probe into how Edward Snowden copied highly classified materials and disseminated them to two news outlets, another looming question for Congress and the White House is why he decided to become disloyal to the government that sustained his family.
The Snowdens are a government family.
Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old U.S. contractor who revealed a once-secret electronic-surveillance program, spent a few months in the Army Reserves and has said he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency.
His older sister, Jessica Snowden, is a researcher for the Federal Judicial Center, a Washington, D.C., policy shop for the judicial branch. His mother, Elizabeth Snowden, is an administrative clerk for Maryland’s federal court. His father, Lonnie Snowden, retired in 2009 from the U.S. Coast Guard.
The youngest Snowden never graduated from high school and, for a few years, lived alone in an Ellicott City, Md., condominium his mother purchased. A neighbor said Snowden came across as “serious” and “studious” — not the type to throw parties or play loud music.
“He was always very quiet, and he was always on his computer,” Joyce Kinsey said in a telephone interview. Through open curtains, she said, she could see him “at all hours of the night at the computer.” He made a point to say hello, she said, and never made eye contact.
As U.S. investigators look into how Snowden copied highly classified materials and disseminated them to two news outlets, another looming question for Congress and the White House is why he decided to become disloyal to the government that sustained his family. Snowden told Britain’s Guardian newspaper he did it to alert Americans to the scope of the surveillance and to protect “basic liberties.”
The only public hint of his dissatisfaction with the Obama administration were two contributions he made to former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, a leading advocate for a smaller, less intrusive government who ran unsuccessfully for president in the Republican primary last year.
Beyond those modest checks, Snowden’s background offers little indication he would some day bolt from the U.S. and go on the run overseas.
His parents grew up in Elizabeth City, N.C., and met in high school. They wed in 1979 after they’d turned 18, according to marriage records.
In 1993, when Snowden was about 10, his family bought a two-story house in Crofton, Md., where they lived for about seven years.
Snowden attended elementary and middle schools in Crofton and enrolled in Arundel High School as a freshman in 1997. He stopped attending after the first semester of his second year, said Bob Mosier, a spokesman for Anne Arundel County public schools.
His parents divorced in 2001, the year Snowden would have graduated from high school, according to Anne Arundel County court records. His father has since remarried and moved with his wife, Karen Snowden, to Upper Macungie Township in Pennsylvania, according to the Allentown Morning Call newspaper, which reported Monday that people identifying themselves as FBI agents had visited the couple.
Lonnie Snowden told ABC News Sunday that he is still “processing” the news about his son and had last seen him months ago for dinner.
Edward Snowden’s mother bought the Ellicott City condo in 2002, property records show. Her son lived in it alone for about two years, his mother dropping by with groceries about every week, Kinsey said. She said he had few visitors except for a young woman with a Virginia license plate.
In May 2004, Snowden enlisted in the Army Reserves and was discharged about four months later, said Lt. Col. S. Justin Platt, a military spokesman. Snowden, who was assigned to Fort Benning, Ga., received no special training and was administratively discharged, Platt said.
The Guardian reported Snowden left the reserves after breaking both his legs in a training exercise. The Pentagon refused to comment on whether such injuries occurred.
The Guardian and The Washington Post, which said Snowden gave the two newspapers secret documents about a government program called “PRISM,” reported he worked for about four years for various government contractors.
When Snowden gave Paul $250 for his presidential bid in March 2012, he said he lived in Columbia, Md., and worked at Dell. When he gave Paul another $250 in May 2012, he listed his occupation as “senior adviser” without giving an employer and said his residence was in Waipahu, Hawaii, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Justice Department asked Dell not to comment on the case, company spokesman Scott Radcliffe said. He wouldn’t say whether Snowden previously worked for Dell.
Defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton confirmed Snowden was employed there for less than three months, and was based in Hawaii. He told the Guardian he left his girlfriend in Hawaii and is on the run in Hong Kong.
Elizabeth Snowden, who goes by Wendy and uses a service dog because she has epilepsy, has lived alone in the Ellicott City apartment for the past few years, neighbor Kinsey said. “Wendy is very pleasant, the ideal neighbor,” Kinsey said.
Like her son before her, Wendy Snowden never draws the curtains, Kinsey said. The previous night was the first time she could remember them being shut.