WASHINGTON — When he was working in the intelligence community in 2009, Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who passed top-secret documents to journalists, appears to have had nothing but disdain for those who leaked classified information, the newspapers that printed their revelations and his current ally, the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, according to newly disclosed chat logs.
Snowden, who used the online handle “TheTrueHOOHA,” was particularly upset by a January 2009 New York Times article that reported on a covert program to subvert Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, according to the logs, which were published Wednesday by Ars Technica, a technology news website.
“They’re reporting classified [expletive],” Snowden wrote. “You don’t put that [expletive] in the NEWSPAPER.”
At the time of the posting, in January 2009, Snowden was 25 and stationed in Geneva by the CIA.
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“Are they TRYING to start a war?” he asked of The New York Times. “Jesus christ they’re like wikileaks.”
Snowden’s libertarian and dogmatic online persona adds to the emerging portrait of a shape-shifting young man whose motivations and decision-making remain in flux.
When he burst into public view in the second week of June, Snowden cast himself as a lonely crusader reconciled to capture and prison but determined to use what freedom he had left to expose what he said were omniscient U.S. surveillance powers that threatened individual privacy.
“I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” Snowden told Britain’s Guardian newspaper in a report that was published June 9 and revealed he was in Hong Kong.
Two weeks later, the former NSA contractor is on the lam, presumed to be at a transit zone at a Moscow airport and forced to depend on a government the likes of which he had earlier seemed eager to avoid.
Although Snowden seems to have started out with a carefully considered plan to steal highly classified material and abscond to Hong Kong, he has since undertaken unscripted dodges to keep U.S. investigators at bay.
He has formed an unsurprising but impromptu alliance with WikiLeaks, gambled on Hong Kong’s desire to be rid of him, as well as on the Kremlin’s benevolence, and turned for asylum to Ecuador.
Snowden became part of the intelligence community without even a high-school diploma, making the jump from security guard at the federally funded University of Maryland Center for Advanced Study of Language, which conducts classified and unclassified research, to CIA recruit in 2007.
The CIA assigned him to Switzerland, and in his commentary on his first taste of life abroad, he complained about bad hamburgers and intermissions in movies.
“God I hate metric,” wrote Snowden on #arsificial, a channel on Ars Technica’s public Internet Relay Chat (IRC) server. “Why can’t they use real numbers over here?”
Editors at Ars Technica said chats on #arsificial are not archived, but they obtained the logs involving Snowden from multiple, independent sources.
The Washington Post reported this month that Snowden used the handle TheTrueHOOHA. Elements of TheTrueHOOHA’s biography and personal views correspond with Snowden’s.
Snowden’s postings offer some glimpses into his political opinions. He admired Rep. Ron Paul — “dreamy” — supported Second Amendment Rights and considered Social Security a crutch that should be eliminated. He called those who disagreed with him “retards.”
Snowden wondered how the anonymous sources could have disclosed classified information. “Those people should be shot in the balls,” he wrote.
There was only the faintest hint Snowden was becoming disillusioned with the U.S. surveillance programs he would later reveal. “WE LOVE THAT TECHNOLOGY [EXPLETIVE],” he wrote in March 2009. “HELPS US SPY ON OUR CITIZENS BETTER.”
Indeed, as he told the Guardian in a videotaped interview this month, his disillusionment with his work as a systems analyst in the U.S. intelligence community was gradual.
“Over time that awareness of wrongdoing sort of builds up and you feel compelled to talk about,” he said. “And the more you talk about, the more you’re ignored, the more you’re told it’s not a problem, until eventually you realize that these things need to be determined by the public and not by somebody who was simply hired by the government.”
In 2009, Snowden left the CIA to work for a private contractor and was based at an NSA facility in Japan. Three years later, he moved to Hawaii, where he again worked at the NSA.
In January, Snowden, without identifying himself, contacted the documentarian Laura Poitras and told her that he wanted to get her encryption key and use a secure channel to communicate. In February, he also contacted Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald.
Poitras also spoke to reporter Barton Gellman about some of the correspondence she had with Snowden, according to an interview she gave Salon, the news website.
In March, Snowden took a position with the contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, apparently to maximize his access to classified material at the NSA.
“My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked,” Snowden told the South China Morning Post in an interview in Hong Kong this month. “That is why I accepted that position about three months ago.”
On May 20, after telling his supervisor he needed treatment for epilepsy, Snowden flew into Hong Kong carrying four laptops. He met with Guardian journalists there June 1. The first Guardian article based on NSA documents appeared June 5, followed the next day by articles in The Washington Post and the Guardian on another surveillance program.
Snowden said he chose the semiautonomous Chinese territory because it had the “cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained.” He stressed in interviews that he had no interest in aiding foreign powers.
“Anyone in the positions of access with the technical capabilities that I had could suck out secrets, pass them on the open market to Russia; they always have an open door as we do,” he told the Guardian.
Snowden’s supporters in WikiLeaks have said that neither Chinese nor Russian intelligence have debriefed the American and that agents from those countries have not had access to his computers.