Edward Snowden, the skinny kid from suburban Maryland who took it upon himself to expose — and, officials say, severely compromise — classified U.S. government surveillance programs, loved role-playing games, leaned libertarian, worked out hard and dabbled in modeling.
He relished the perks of his jobs with the CIA and some of the world’s most prestigious employers. Yet his girlfriend considered it a major accomplishment when she got him to leave the house for a hike with friends.
Snowden, 29, emerged a week ago from his status as an anonymous source for stories in The Washington Post and the Guardian, announcing to the world that he was prepared to be prosecuted for breaking his pledge to keep classified materials secret. But as quickly as he popped up in a fancy Hong Kong hotel, he vanished again, going underground as U.S. officials said they were preparing a legal case against him and several members of Congress called him a traitor.
Although Snowden has repeatedly insisted that the documents he revealed are the story and that his life is of no interest, questions about his motives and rationale inevitably colored the debate over his decision to violate his oath.
Snowden could not be reached for comment; he has not been seen since Monday, when he left the Hong Kong hotel from which he revealed himself to the world. And for someone who spent most of his life deeply exploring the most powerful communications tool of the era, he has connected with remarkably few people. Teachers, classmates, neighbors and fellow hobbyists consistently say they don’t remember him, or they recall him primarily as a quiet sort who made a point of keeping his distance.
For years, Snowden has sought to keep his online activities hidden, posting under pseudonyms even as a teenager and hanging out on anime, gaming and technology sites, chatting with fellow webheads about how to be on the Internet without being traced. “I wouldn’t want God himself to know where I’ve been, you know?” he wrote in 2003 on a bulletin board for the technically inclined.
But Snowden also craved the limelight. Even a decade ago, while debating a fine point of Internet structure, Snowden celebrated the response to one of his posts: “256 page views make me smile.” He explored becoming a male model, having a portrait photographer shoot him in alluring poses on a wooden bridge. And when he went public as the leaker, he did so on video, offering an assured, even cocky, argument for the acts that drove him to hide halfway around the world from the government of the country he claimed to love.
A quiet childhood
Eddie Snowden was a shy, thin-boned boy who didn’t say a lot. At Prince of Peace Presbyterian Church on Crofton Parkway, not far from Snowden’s childhood home in Anne Arundel County, Boy Scout Troop 731 met weekly, but although Snowden was a Scout for several years in elementary and middle school, the troop’s leaders and members recall little about him.