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He was an year-old American male with impressive IT skills and a sharp intelligence.

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His real identity was unknown. Everyone who posted on Ars Technicaa popular technology website, did so anonymously. It was a Saturday morning, a little after 11am. He posted: "It's my first time. Be gentle. Here's my dilemma: I want to be my own host.

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What do I need? Soon, regular users were piling in with helpful suggestions. He described himself variously as "unemployed", a failed soldier, a "systems editor", and someone who had US State Department security clearance.

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But by his mids he was already an international man of mystery. He travelled to India. Despite having no degree, he knew an astonishing amount about computers. His politics appeared staunchly Republican. He believed strongly in personal liberty, defending, for example, Australians who farmed cannabis plants. At times he could be rather obnoxious. He called one fellow-Arsian, for example, a "cock"; others who disagreed with his sink-or-swim views on social security were "fucking retards". His chat logs cover a colourful array of themes: gaming, girls, sex, Japan, the stock market, his disastrous stint in the US army, his negative impressions of multiracial Britain he was shocked by the of "Muslims" in east London and wrote, "I thought I had gotten off of the plane in the wrong country… it was terrifying"the joys of gun ownership "I have a Walther P It's my only gun but I love it to death," he wrote in In their own way, the logs form a Bildungsroman.

Then, inthe entries fizzle away. Or was it a relatively instantaneous sea change that sneaked in undetected because of pervasive government secrecy? After that, he disappears, a lost electronic ature amid the vastness of cyberspace. He was, we now know, Edward Snowden. Edward Joseph Snowden was born on 21 June His father Lonnie and mother Elizabeth — known as Wendy — were high-school sweethearts who married at He has an older sister, Jessica. When Snowden was small — a boy with thick blond hair and a toothy smile — he and his family moved to Maryland, within DC's commuter belt.

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As his father recalls, Snowden's education went wrong when he got ill, probably with glandular fever. He missed "four or five months" of class in his mid-teens. Another factor hurt his studies: his parents were drifting apart. He failed to finish high school.

Inaged 16, Snowden enrolled at Anne Arundel community college, where he took computer courses. In the aftermath of his parents' divorce, Snowden lived with a roommate, and then with his mother, in Ellicott City, just west of Baltimore. He grew up under the giant shadow of one government agency in particular. From his mother's front door, it takes 15 minutes to drive there. Half-hidden by trees is a big, green, cube-shaped building.

Employees only. It is the largest hirer of mathematicians in the US. For Snowden, the likelihood of ing was slim. In his early 20s, his focus was on computers. To him, the internet was "the most important invention in all human history". He chatted online to people "with all sorts of views I would never have encountered on my own". He wasn't only a nerd: he kept fit, practised kung fu and, according to one entry on Ars, "dated Asian girls".

The US-led invasion of Iraq prompted Snowden to think seriously about a career in the military. The military offered what seemed, on the face of it, an attractive scheme, whereby recruits with no prior experience could try out to become elite soldiers. It was a disaster. He was in good physical shape but an improbable soldier, shortsighted and with unusually narrow feet. During infantry training, he broke both his legs.

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After more than a month's uncertainty, the army finally discharged him. It was He appears to have begun as a security guard, but then moved back into IT. Snowden was working at a covert NSA facility on the university's campus. Thanks perhaps to his brief military history, he had broken into the world of US intelligence, albeit on a low rung.

The centre worked closely with the US intelligence community, providing advanced language training. He was rapidly learning that his exceptional IT skills opened all kinds of interesting government doors. Switzerland was an awakening and an adventure. He was His job was to maintain security for the CIA's computer network and look after computer security for US diplomats.

He was a telecommunications information systems officer. He also had to maintain the heating and air-con. At the time, the figure who most closely embodied Snowden's rightwing views was Ron Paulthe most famous exponent of US libertarianism. Snowden supported Paul's bid for the US presidency.

He was also impressed with the Republican candidate John McCain. He wasn't an Obama supporter as such, but he didn't object to him, either. Once Obama became president, Snowden came to dislike him intensely. He criticised the White House's attempts to ban assault weapons. He was unimpressed by affirmative action. Another topic made him even angrier. The Snowden of inveighed against government officials who leaked classified information to newspapers — the worst crime conceivable, in Snowden's apoplectic view.

The Times said its story was based on 15 months' worth of interviews with current and former US officials, European and Israeli officials, other experts and international nuclear inspectors. In a long conversation with another user, he wrote the following messages:. Snowden's anti-leaking invective seems stunningly at odds with his own later behaviour, but he would trace the beginning of his own disillusionment with government spying to this time.

I realised that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good," he later said. The opportunities for contractors had boomed as the burgeoning US security state outsourced intelligence tasks to private companies.

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Snowden was on the payroll of Dell, the computer firm. The early lacunae in his CV were by this stage pretty much irrelevant. He had top-secret clearance and outstanding computer skills. He had felt passionately about Japan from his early teens and had spent a year and a half studying Japanese. He sometimes used the Japanese pronunciation of his name — "E-do-waa-do" — and wrote in "I've always dreamed of being able to 'make it' in Japan.

I'd love a cushy. Japan marked a turning point, the period when Snowden became more than a disillusioned technician: "I watched as Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in. I had been looking for leaders, but I realised that leadership is about being the first to act. He was still a Dell contractor, working at one of the 13 NSA hubs devoted to spying on foreign interests, particularly the Chinese. He arrived with an audacious plan to make contact anonymously with journalists interested in civil liberties and to leak them stolen top-secret documents.

His aim was not to spill state secrets wholesale. Rather, he wanted to turn over a selection of material to reporters and let them exercise their own editorial judgment.

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