Snowden dipped in and out of course work over the next dozen years, taking classes at Anne Arundel Community College, the University of Maryland’s University College, the University of Liverpool and the Computer Career Institute, a for-profit college then affiliated with Johns Hopkins University.
He became a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert — a status the computer giant offers as a gateway to tech jobs — but Snowden felt stuck in those first years of adulthood, describing himself on the Ars Technica site as someone “without a degree or clearance who lives in Maryland. Read that as ‘unemployed.’ ”
In 2004, he enlisted in the Army Reserve as a Special Forces recruit. His religion, he wrote on his Army application form, was Buddhist. “Agnostic is strangely absent” from the form, he wrote in an online post, dismissing religion as “blindly making someone else’s beliefs your own.”
A few months earlier, a poster using the pseudonym “Chishinken,” a name Snowden adopted in some technical online discussions, had written about beginning basic training and buying a rifle for someone who “has not fired a rifle since he was seven years old.”
But Snowden’s military career ended almost before it began. Less than four months after he reported to Fort Benning in Georgia for the Army’s Advanced Individual Training program, Snowden was discharged.
In a message on Ars Technica, where he used the handle TheTrueHOOHA, Snowden said he broke both of his legs during training and was discharged as a result, though he complained that “after being cleared, they held onto me for another month just for s--ts and giggles.”
Snowden “attempted to qualify to become a Special Forces soldier but did not complete the requisite training and was administratively discharged,” said Col. David H. Patterson Jr., an Army spokesman at the Pentagon. The Army made no mention of any accident or injury.
Snowden struggled through a period of joblessness, spending long nights playing computer games and chatting online. (His fascination with games continued even as he rose to more responsible positions. “I woke this morning with a new name,” he announced excitedly in 2010, referring to his gaming avatar. “That name is Wolfking. Wolfking Awesomefox.”)
He was into fitness as well, lifting weights and doing P90X, a high-intensity training program featuring intense workouts. “I am working pretty hard on the muscle tone,” he wrote, saying he had reduced his body fat to between 9.5 percent and 10.5 percent.