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NSA contractor risks steep jail time for data leak

  • This photo provided by The Guardian Newspaper in London shows Edward Snowden, who worked as a contract employee at the National Security Agency, on Sunday, June 9, 2013, in Hong Kong. The Guardian identified Snowden as a source for its reports on intelligence programs after he asked the newspaper to do so on Sunday. (AP Photo/The Guardian)

WASHINGTON — The man who gave classified documents to reporters, making public two sweeping U.S. surveillance programs and touching off a national debate on privacy versus security, has revealed his own identity. He risked decades in jail for the disclosures — if the U.S. can extradite him from Hong Kong where he has taken refuge.

Edward Snowden, 29, who says he worked as a contractor at the National Security Agency and the CIA, allowed The Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers to reveal his identity Sunday.

Both papers have published a series of top-secret documents outlining two NSA surveillance programs. One gathers hundreds of millions of U.S. phone records while searching for possible links to known terrorist targets abroad, and the second allows the government to tap into nine U.S. Internet companies to gather all Internet usage to detect suspicious behavior that begins overseas.

The revelations have reopened the post-Sept. 11 debate about individual privacy concerns versus heightened measures to protect the U.S. against terrorist attacks. The NSA has asked the Justice Department to conduct a criminal investigation into the leaks. Government lawyers are now "in the initial stages of an investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of classified information by an individual with authorized access," said Nanda Chitre, Justice Department spokeswoman.

President Barack Obama said the programs are authorized by Congress and subject to strict supervision of a secret court, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says they do not target U.S. citizens.


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