Edward Snowden: Hiding in Plain Sight

Even though three years have passed since Edward Snowden became the most famous whistleblower in American history, the controversy surrounding his actions remains. Is he a patriot or a traitor? Opinion seems evenly divided between the two camps. The United States government lands decidedly in the latter camp.

Snowden Movie vs. Snowden.

With the announcement that three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone is bringing Snowden to the big screen on September 16, 2016, interest in Edward Snowden is building once again. Oliver Stone built his career tackling controversial subject matter, from Platoon to JFK to Born on the Fourth of July. However, one question remains: How did a high school dropout become material for an Oliver Stone film?

The Beginning.

Born in North Carolina in 1983, Edward Snowden moved with his mother to Baltimore after his parents' divorce. In 1999, he dropped out of high school and enrolled in community college to study computers. In 2004, he joined the U.S. Army Reserve. He was discharged after four months for medical reasons. He went back to community college. In 2005, he became a security guard at the University of Maryland's Center for Advanced Study of Language, which had ties to the National Security Agency. In 2006, he transitioned from security guard to an IT position at the Central Intelligence Agency. He left the CIA in 2009, under suspicion of attempting to break into classified files. He then went to work for Dell as a private contractor. Dell sent Snowden to Japan to work as a subcontractor in an NSA office. He then transferred to Hawaii and, a short time later, he left Dell to work for another NSA subcontractor, Booz Allen Hamilton.

Becoming a Whistleblower.

As an IT worker for government subcontractors, Snowden discovered the depth and breadth of the NSA's domestic surveillance practices. During his short time with Booz Allen Hamilton, Snowden built a dossier of top-secret NSA documents detailing the surveillance practices he considered invasive. With this evidence, he requested a medical leave of absence from Booz Allen. On May 20, 2013, Snowden flew to China where he had arranged to meet with journalists from The Guardian, as well as documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras. On June 5, The Guardian released the documents Snowden handed over, including an NSA order requiring Verizon to release information regarding the phone activities of its American customers. This wasn't a one-time directive but an ongoing, daily gathering of information on Verizon's customers. On June 6, The Guardian and The Washington Post released these leaked documents through the NSA program PRISM. These documents revealed the NSA's surveillance programs on millions of American citizens, whether or not NSA considered them "persons of interest." America's largest technology companies provided the majority of information the NSA gathered. Their store of information originated from global telephone and Internet networks as well as the British program Tempora. Employed by the British spy agency GCHQ, Tempora collects, stores, and analyzes personal information from email messages, Internet histories, Facebook posts, and phone calls. Snowden called it "probably the most invasive intercept system in the world."

The Fallout.

Many people considered Snowden a hero for revealing the truth, and over 100,000 of his supporters signed a petition asking President Obama to pardon him. However, on June 14, the United States government charged Snowden with theft of government property, plus two charges of espionage: unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified information to an unauthorized person. After a month in hiding, Snowden made his way to Ecuador before a layover in Russia changed his plans. The American government had annulled his passport, stranding him in the Russian airport for a month. Russia offered him political asylum, as did Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Snowden chose Russia and has remained there ever since. He applied for clemency but the U.S. government rejected his request in November 2013. Snowden frequently grants online interviews, typically by chat or video, and appeared at the 2014 South by Southwest festival via teleconference. In May of that same year, during an interview with Brian Williams and NBC News, Snowden claimed to be an undercover operative for both the CIA and NSA. In an interview with CNN, National Security Advisor Susan Rice denied Snowden's claims.

Political Exiles Hide in Plain Sight.

In December 2015, Snowden tweeted to his followers about the strengths of VPN. He should know; he uses a VPN connection and proxies to give online interviews, to chat, and to videoconference. And, of course, to keep up with his supporters on social media. Edward Snowden hasn't left the public eye at all, yet the United States government still can't find him. That is the strength of a VPN connection. For some, a VPN connection protects us from prying eyes when we surf via public networks. It encrypts your data and keeps it safe. For many users, though, a VPN connection protects their personal safety while they are online and allows them to access sites forbidden by their country's government. Whichever camp you fall under, ZenMate offers VPN security to throw off the bad guys and keep you safe online.

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