Interesting facts about Edward Snowden show he was an eccentric genius among geniuses

// August 17th, 2014 // Hacking and Security


Edward Snowden often wore a hoodie like this one

Edward Snowden on the cover of Wired magazineForbes magazine did an investigation piece on Edward Snowden in late 2013. During their investigation, which included interviews with several of Snowden’s fellow coworkers, they discovered a few interesting facts that show Snowden was not only a bit eccentric, but indeed a “genius among geniuses”. According to Forbes, Snowden was “a principled and ultra-competent, if somewhat eccentric employee, and one who earned the access used to pull off his leak by impressing superiors with sheer talent.”

Staff interviewed by Forbes confirmed their statement:

“That kid was a genius among geniuses. NSA is full of smart people, but anybody who sat in a meeting with Ed will tell you he was in a class of his own…I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Here are a few interesting Snowden facts you may not have known about Edward Snowden:

  • Before coming to NSA Hawaii, Snowden had impressed NSA officials by developing a backup system that the agency had widely implemented in its codebreaking operations.
  • Snowden frequently reported security vulnerabilities in NSA software. Many of the bugs were never patched.
  • Impressed with his technical abilities, Snowden’s managers decided that he was the most qualified candidate to build a new web front-end for one of its projects, despite his contractor status. As his coworker tells it, he was given full administrator privileges, with virtually unlimited access to NSA data. “Big mistake in hindsight,” says Snowden’s former colleague. “But if you had a guy who could do things nobody else could, and the only problem was that his badge was green instead of blue, what would you do?”
  • Snowden’s superiors were so impressed with his skills that he was at one point offered a position on the elite team of NSA hackers known as Tailored Access Operations. He unexpectedly turned it down and instead joined Booz Allen to work at NSA’s Threat Operation Center.
  • Snowden kept a copy of the constitution on his desk to cite when arguing against NSA activities he thought might violate it.
  • Snowden was deeply worried about being spied on. He lines the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping. He puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords to prevent any hidden cameras from detecting them.
  • Snowden also once nearly lost his job standing up for a coworker who was being disciplined by a superior.
  • Snowden often left small gifts anonymously at colleagues’ desks.
  • According to Snowden, “The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to”. During his time at the NSA, on his laptop, were two stickers espousing his beliefs: “I support Online Rights: Electronic Frontier Foundation” and another hailing the Tor Project.
  • Snowden frequently walked NSA’s halls carrying a Rubik’s cube–the same object he held to identify himself on a Hong Kong street to the journalists who first met with him to publish his leaks.

Edward Snowden Timeline

Below is the Edward Snowden timeline of events:

Edward Snowden - HeroMay 7, 2004 – Enlists in the Army Reserve as a Special Forces candidate.

September 28, 2004 – Is discharged from the Army Reserve without completing any training or receiving any awards.

2013 – Works for Booz Allen for less than three months, assigned to a team in Hawaii. Snowden is terminated on June 10, 2013.


May 16, 2013 – Snowden has his first direct exchange with Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman.

May 20, 2013 – Snowden leaves for Hong Kong.

May 24, 2013 – In an e-mail to Gellman, Snowden requests that the Post publish, within 72 hours, information about PRISM, a surveillance program that gathers information from Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and others.

June 5, 2013 – The Guardian reports that the U.S. government has obtained a secret court order that requires Verizon to turn over the telephone records of millions of Americans to the NSA.

June 6, 2013 – The Guardian and the Washington Post disclose the existence of PRISM, a program they say allows the NSA to extract the details of customer activities — including “audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents” and other materials — from computers at Microsoft, Google, Apple and other Internet companies.

June 9, 2013 – The Guardian and Washington Post disclose Edward Snowden as their source for the intelligence related leaks.

June 9, 2013 – Booz Allen releases a statement confirming that Snowden has been an employee of their firm for almost three months.

June 12, 2013 – The South China Morning Post publishes an interview with Snowden in which he says that U.S. intelligence agents have been hacking networks around the world for years.

June 17, 2013 – During a live online chat, the person identified as Snowden by Britain’s Guardian newspaper insists that U.S. authorities have access to phone calls, e-mails and other communications far beyond constitutional bounds.

June 18, 2013 – Testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce argues that the PRISM program has helped stop a number of alleged terrorist attacks.

June 21, 2013 – Federal prosecutors unseal a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Virginia on June 14, 2013, charging Snowden with espionage and theft of government property.

June 22, 2013 – A senior U.S. administration official says the United States has contacted authorities in Hong Kong to seek the extradition of Snowden.

June 23, 2013 – Flies to Moscow from Hong Kong. Russian President Vladimir Putin later verifies that Snowden is in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport.

June 23, 2013 – A source tells CNN that the U.S. government has revoked Snowden’s passport.

10Edward Snowden during a television interviewJune 30, 2013 – German news magazine Der Spiegel reports that classified leaks by Snowden detail NSA bugging of European Union offices in Washington and New York, as well as an EU building in Brussels.

July 1, 2013 – Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti reports that Snowden had requested asylum there.

July 12, 2013 – Snowden meets with human rights activists and lawyers. He says he is requesting asylum from Russia while he awaits safe passage to Latin America.

July 16, 2013 – Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena tells CNN that Snowden has applied for temporary asylum in Russia. If the request is granted, Snowden would be able to live in Russia for at least a year.

July 24, 2013 – Russian news media reports that Russia has approved documents that would allow Snowden to enter the rest of the country while his temporary asylum request is considered.

August 1, 2013 – Kucherena tells CNN that Snowden’s application for political asylum for a year has been approved, and he has left the Moscow airport.

October 31, 2013 – Snowden’s attorney Anatoly Kucherena tells CNN that his client has been hired by a unnamed Russian website.

November 3, 2013 – A letter, purportedly written by Snowden, is published in the German magazine Der Spiegel. The letter, titled “A Manifesto for the Truth,” says “mass surveillance is a global problem and needs a global solution.”

December 17, 2013 – Snowden posts an open letter to Brazil, offering to help investigate U.S. surveillance of Brazilian citizens.

January 23, 2014 – Attorney General Eric Holder says, “if Mr. Snowden wanted to come back to the United States and enter a plea, we would engage with his lawyers.” Snowden says in an online chat the same day that, “(a return to the U.S. is) unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistle-blower protection laws.”

March 10, 2014 – Snowden speaks via teleconference from Russia to an audience of thousands at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, urging the audience to help “fix” the U.S. government’s surveillance of its citizens. The event marks the first time Snowden has directly addressed people in the United States since he fled the country with thousands of secret documents last June.

May 28, 2014 – NBC News airs an interview with Snowden in which he claims, “I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word — in that I lived and worked undercover, overseas, pretending to work in a job that I’m not — and even being assigned a name that was not mine.” In an interview with Wolf Blitzer, National Security Adviser Susan Rice denies that Snowden was ever a U.S. spy.

July 9, 2014 – Russian state news reports that Snowden has formally requested that Russia’s government extend his temporary asylum.

August 7, 2014 – Snowden’s attorney announces that Snowden has been granted an extension to stay in Russia for three more years.

Edward Snowden on video board in UK

Sources: Forbes, Wired, CNN
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