The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Did Snowden really earn a $200,000 salary?

One poignant feature of the Edward Snowden saga is sacrifice. Here’s a 29-year-old guy living in Hawaii with his girlfriend, and he gives it all up as he leaks national security information to the Guardian and to The Post.

And how much was he earning? Two-hundred grand, according to the Guardian. He was an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton and worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency. The Guardian:

He has had “a very comfortable life” that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves. “I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”

That salary figure looked nicely inflated for a guy south of 30 who’s doing stuff for the government. The Atlantic harnessed the thoughts of many when it published a post with this subhed: “What the leaker’s $200,000 salary tells us about the absurd cost of privatizing government.”

Now Booz Allen is throwing some more data into this sub-story, with an announcement that just popped up on its Web site:

Booz Allen can confirm that Edward Snowden, 29, was an employee of our firm for less than 3 months, assigned to a team in Hawaii. Snowden, who had a salary at the rate of $122,000, was terminated June 10, 2013 for violations of the firm’s code of ethics and firm policy. News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm. We will work closely with our clients and authorities in their investigation of this matter.

There’s a massive difference between $122,000 and $200,000 — a 64 percent difference. Yet Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist at the forefront of these stories, says this: “That is a very strangely worded statement — using ‘rate,'” writes Greenwald. When asked whether he’d seen Snowden’s pay stubs, Greenwald said he hadn’t. “[H]is salary didn’t really strike me as a central part of the story, to put that mildly. It’s possible Booz Allen is using a pro-rated figure, or it’s possible Snowden talked about his salary at his prior NSA job at Dell.” A source told the Erik Wemple Blog that Snowden wasn’t bonus-eligible

Though there’s been some murkiness about how the NSA “PRISM” program disclosed by Snowden operates on a day-to-day basis, its broad outlines aren’t in dispute. That said, all kinds of statements made by Snowden are coming under fire, including that he had access to “undercover assets all over the world.” A former intelligence official, commenting about that Snowden boast, said, “He’s lying.” He also said he had the “authorities” to wiretap just about anyone, including a judge or “even the President if I had a personal e-mail.”

Call in the fact-checkers.