The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Four years ago, Ed Snowden thought leakers should be ‘shot’

Since he publicly acknowledged being the source of bombshell leaks about the NSA two weeks ago, Ed Snowden has portrayed government secrecy as a threat to democracy, and his own leaks as acts of conscience. But chat logs uncovered by the tech news site Ars Technica suggest Snowden hasn't always felt that way.

"Those people should be shot in the balls," Snowden apparently said of leakers in a January 2009 chat. Snowden had logged into an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) server associated with Ars Technica. While Ars itself didn't log the conversations, multiple participants in the discussions kept logs of the chats and provided them to the technology site.

At this point, Snowden's evolution into a fierce critic of the national security establishment was in its early stages. Snowden was incensed at the New York Times, which had described secret negotiations between the United States and Israel over how best to deal with Iran's suspected nuclear program.

"Are they TRYING to start a war? Jesus christ. They're like wikileaks." Snowden wrote. "You don't put that s--- in the NEWSPAPER."

"They have a HISTORY of this s---," he continued, making liberal use of capital letters and profanity. "These are the same people who blew the whole 'we could listen to osama's cell phone' thing. The same people who screwed us on wiretapping. Over and over and over again."

He said he enjoyed "ethical reporting." But "VIOLATING NATIONAL SECURITY? no. That s--- is classified for a reason. It's not because 'oh we hope our citizens don't find out.' It's because 'this s--- won't work if iran knows what we're doing.'"

"I am so angry right now. This is completely unbelievable."

The comments were posted by a user named TheTrueHOOHA. While IRC doesn't have a formal mechanism for authenticating users, impersonation is rare, and Snowden is known to have used the same username in comments on the Ars Web site. Moreover, TheTrueHOOHA mentions biographical details, like his work in Switzerland, that closely match Snowden's biography.

Evidently, four years inside the national security bureaucracy radically changed Snowden's views about executive secrecy. "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," Snowden said after releasing dozens of classified documents to two newspapers. Snowden says he got "hardened" later in 2009 as he "watched as Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in." He now believes the government's spying programs pose "an existential threat to democracy."

Snowden says he concluded that "you can't wait around for someone else to act. I had been looking for leaders, but I realized that leadership is about being the first to act."