The source of the bombshell leaks about the U.S. government gathering information on billions of phone calls and Internet activities was an American employed as a contract worker for the National Security Agency, The Guardian newspaper, which broke the story, said Sunday.
The British newspaper has identified the source as 29-year-old Edward Snowden, who worked for defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton and was a former technical assistant for the CIA.
The Washington Post followed the Guardian announcement by saying Snowden was the source for its surveillance stories that followed.
Snowden told The Post from Hong Kong, where he has been staying, that he now intends to ask for asylum from “any countries that believe in free speech and oppose the victimization of global privacy.”
In a nearly 13-minute video that accompanied The Guardian story Sunday, Snowden says he has no intentions of hiding because he has done nothing wrong.
“When you’re in positions of privileged access … . You recognize some of these things are actual abuses,” Snowden said about his decision to be a whistleblower. “Over time, you feel compelled to talk about it.”
The Guardian broke the story late Wednesday that the federal government was collecting phone call records from Verizon customers.
The paper and The Post followed with a series of reports about the calls being taken from other telecommunications companies and that the NSA and FBI have a Internet scouring program, code-named PRISM, that records Internet activities, all part of a post-9-11 effort to thwart terrorism.
Booz Allen said Sunday that Snowden was employed at the firm for less than three months and was assigned to a team in Hawaii.
“News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm,” Booz Allen said in a release. “We will work closely with our clients and authorities in their investigation of this matter.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Oval Office would not comment on Snowden before Monday.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment on Snowden’s disclosure, saying the issue has been referred to the Justice Department.
However, the agency said: “Any person who has a security clearance knows that he or she has an obligation to protect classified information and abide by the law.”
New York Republican Rep. Peter King, chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterintelligence and Terrorism and a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, said: “If Edward Snowden did in fact leak the NSA data as he claims, the United States government must prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law and begin extradition proceedings at the earliest date. The United States must make it clear that no country should be granting this individual asylum. This is a matter of extraordinary consequence to American intelligence.”
Washington officials have acknowledged all branches of the federal government — Congress, the White House and federal courts — knew about the collection of data under the Patriot Act.
Still, the leaks have reopened the debate about privacy concerns versus heightened measure to protect against terrorist attacks. They also led the NSA to ask the Justice Department to conduct a criminal investigation.
Fox News confirmed the Obama administration took the first steps Saturday in a criminal investigation when officials filed a “crimes report.”
National Intelligence Director James Clapper has decried the leaks as reckless. And in the past days he has taken the rare step of declassifying some details about them to respond to media reports about counterterrorism techniques employed by the government.
“Disclosing information about the specific methods the government uses to collect communications can obviously give our enemies a ‘playbook’ of how to avoid detection,” Clapper said Saturday.
PRISM allows the federal government to tap directly into the servers of major U.S. Internet companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and AOL, scooping out emails, video chats, instant messages and more to track foreign nationals who are suspected of terrorism or espionage.
The chief executives of Facebook and Google have said their companies were not aware the data grab.
Officials say the government is not listening to any of the billions of phone calls, only logging the numbers.
President Obama, Clapper and others also have said the programs are subject to strict supervision of a secret court.
Obama said Friday that the programs have made a difference in tracking terrorists and are not tantamount to “Big Brother.”
The president acknowledged the U.S. government is collecting reams of phone records, including phone numbers and the duration of calls, but said this does not include listening to calls or gathering the names of callers.
“You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” he said. “We’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”
However, the president said he welcomes a debate on that issue.
Snowden is quoted as saying that his “sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”
The Guardian reported that Snowden was working in an NSA office in Hawaii when he copied the last of the documents he planned to disclose and told supervisors that he needed to be away for a few weeks to receive treatment for epilepsy.
Snowden is quoted as saying he chose Hong Kong because it has a “spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent” and because he believed it was among the spots on the globes that could and would resist the dictates of the U.S. government.
Snowden is quoted as saying he hopes the publicity of the leaks will provide him some protection and that he sees asylum, perhaps in Iceland, as a possibility.
“I feel satisfied that this was all worth it. I have no regrets,” Snowden told the Guardian
Snowden was said to have worked on IT security for the CIA and by 2007 was stationed with diplomatic cover in Geneva, responsible for maintaining computer network security. That gave him clearance to a range of classified documents, according to the Guardian report.
“Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world,” he says. “I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.”
Published June 09, 2013 / FoxNews.com / The Associated Press contributed to this report.