The whistle-blower who tore the cloak off the National Security Agency's massive online surveillance program has revealed himself as a 29-year-old contractor for the agency and former technical assistant at the CIA.
Edward Snowden, who works for consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton, volunteered his identity to The Guardian newspaper of London after providing the information that led to the earlier stories about the program, whose scope caused a furor and prompted the White House to mount a defense.
In a story in Sunday's Guardian, Snowden defended his actions.
"I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," he said.
Still, Snowden, who has been holed up in a hotel in Hong Kong, said he fully expects the U.S. government to pursue him.
"I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions," but "I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant," he wrote in a note accompanying a set of documents turned over to the The Guardian.
"Yes, I could be rendered by the CIA," he said in an interview. "I could have people come after me. Or any of the third-party partners."
The native of Elizabeth City, N.C., said he was willing to sacrifice a "comfortable life," including a salary of about $200,000 and a home in Hawaii he shares with his girlfriend "because I can't in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, Internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building."
A spokesman for the director of National Intelligence did not have immediate comment on the disclosure.
The NSA has been collecting the phone records of hundreds of millions of Americans each day, creating a database through which it can learn whether terror suspects have been in contact with people in the U.S. The NSA program does not listen to actual conversations.
Separately, an Internet scouring program, code-named PRISM, allows the NSA and FBI to tap directly into nine U.S. Internet companies to gather all web usage -- audio, video, photographs, emails and searches. The effort is designed to detect suspicious behavior that begins overseas.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper decried the revelation of the intelligence-gathering programs as reckless and said it has done "huge, grave damage." In recent days, he took the rare step of declassifying some details about them to respond to media reports about counterterrorism techniques employed by the government.
President Barack Obama, Clapper and others have said the programs are authorized by Congress and subject to strict supervision of a secret court.
"It's important to recognize that you can't have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience," Obama said. "We're going to have to make some choices as a society. And what I can say is that in evaluating these programs, they make a difference in our capacity to anticipate and prevent possible terrorist activity."
Snowden told the Guardian that he lacked a high school diploma and enlisted in the U.S. Army until he was discharged with broken legs after a training mission.
After leaving the Army, Snowden got his foot in the door with the NSA at a covert facility at the University of Maryland, working as a security guard.
He later went to work for the CIA as an information technology employee and by 2007 was stationed in Geneva, Switzerland, where he had access to classified documents.
With The Associated Press